Massachusetts Voters May Decide Bottle Bill Expansion

Dec 17, 2013

A coalition that includes environmentalists, consumer advocates, and municipal officials is making another push in Massachusetts to update the bottle deposit law.

Three decades after Massachusetts voters approved a nickel deposit on cans and bottles of soda and beer, a question may appear on the 2014 ballot to include bottled water, teas, and sports drinks in the beverage deposit law.   Secretary of State Bill Galvin has certified the possible ballot question received more than the nearly 69,000 valid signatures required.

Ryan Black, director of the Massachusetts Sierra Club, calls expanding the bottle deposit law to include noncarbonated beverages a “no brainer.”

" We will triple the recycling rate for these water bottles if we implement the existing deposit system which has proven to be very very effective," said Black.

Frustrated by failure in the last 15 years to persuade the state legislature to amend the bottle deposit law, activists set out  this fall to secure enough signatures to begin the initiative petition process. Janet Domenitz, executive director of MassPIRG, said nearly 95,000 registered voters signed the petition—35 percent more than the minimum number needed.

" That is a result of the enthusiasm of the public for updating the bottle bill."

Other groups involved in the bottle bill expansion petition drive included the Massachusetts League of Women Voters, The Environmental League of Massachusetts, and several local recycling committees.  Boston Mayor Tom Menino also endorsed the effort.

The State Senate has twice passed an expanded bottle bill, but it has failed to win approval in the House.

New York and Connecticut both recently expanded bottle deposit laws and Maine has required a deposit on bottled water for 10 years, according to Domenitz.

" So we are behind now, and we need to catch up. Massachusetts is supposed to pave the way and we are behind."

Chris Flynn, president of the Massachusetts Food Association, which represents the grocery and supermarket industry in Massachusetts, said the bottle deposit as a recycling incentive is redundant.

"We have 90 percent of the states' residents who have drop off or curb side recycling and it just does not make sense to tax consumers in this way."

Eighty percent of beverage containers sold with a nickel deposit in Massachusetts are recycled versus just 23 percent of the bottles and cans not subject to the deposit, according to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

Under the initiative petition procedure in Massachusetts the legislature has until May 7 to act on a question. If legislators vote no, or do nothing, supporters have to collect a second, smaller batch of signatures to get the question on the November ballot.