Environmental and consumer rights activists are hopeful of getting a bill that would update the Massachusetts bottle deposit law through the legislature after 14 years of frustration. Opponents are pushing a new argument, claiming an expanded bottle deposit is a tax. WAMC”s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.
Rallies and events, organized chiefly by MassPIRG and the Sierra Club took place this week from the steps of the Statehouse in Boston to western Massachusetts. The activists sought to focus public attention on the bill pending in the Massachusetts Legislature to expand the state’s 30 year old bottle deposit law to include noncarbonated beverages.
Rory Casey was campaigning for the updated bottle bill at the downtown farmer’s market in Holyoke, accompanied by someone in a 7 –foot-tall inflatable bottle, labeled “ Bottle Bill”
Casey and the other proponents of expanding the bottle deposit law got an unexpected boost last week when it was gaveled through the State Senate on a voice vote, attached as an amendment to a House passed jobs bill.
A lot has changed in the three decades since Massachusetts first put a nickel deposit on every can and bottle of soda and beer sold in the state to give people an incentive to not litter. Bottle waters, juices and sports drinks now account for a large percentage of the beverage market. Curbside recycling programs have also expanded into a majority of cities and towns, a point made by bottle bill expansion critics.
Holyoke City Councilor Aaron Vega says expanding the bottle deposit law is not redundant with municipal recycling programs.
The Massachusetts Food Association, the lobbyists for the supermarket and grocery store industry has long argued against expanding the bottle deposit law on the grounds that it would burden the food and beverage industry will costs. Additionally the argument is being made that the bottle deposit is a tax because the state projects it will pocket $20 million a year in unredeemed deposits.
Barbara Anderson, the executive director of Citizens For Limited Taxation, in a memo to legislators said the organization has always been careful to differentiate between a tax and a fee and she concludes the bottle deposit is neither.
But, Anderson is opposed to the bottle deposit expansion on grounds it would hurt small food store short on space to store empty containers, and she it was outrageous for the senate to pass it without a roll call
The fate of the expanded bottle deposit law, attached as it is now to a jobs bill, rests with a House-Senate conference committee, according to State Representative Stephen Kulik of Worthington.
The clock runs out on the current legislative session this Tuesday evening, July 31st. If the updated bottle bill does not pass both chambers by then, proponents would have to re-file it in January and the debate can begin anew.