Is this the year Massachusetts settles bottle bill battle?

Is this the year Massachusetts settles bottle bill battle?

By Dan Leif, Plastics Recycling Update

May 15, 2014

The fight over the future of Massachusetts' bottle bill is raging once again, and it has a few new wrinkles this time around.

The state's bill, passed in 1982, offers a nickel redemption for many soda, beer and carbonated water containers. Legislative efforts in recent years to expand the law to cover juice, water and other products have garnered the support of powerful state political figures, but no update bills have made it through the legislative system. For almost two decades, groups on both sides of the debate have pushed for changes.

In March of this year, yet another piece of legislation failed to move out of committee, but since then lawmakers, environmental groups and beverage industry representatives have each moved in their own ways to try to finally bring closure to the issue.

On the legislative front, state Rep. John Keenan, a Democrat and House chair of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy convened a group of legislators to try to develop a proposal that would take into account interests of environmentalists and the beverage industry.

Liam Holland, research director for the committee, told Plastics Recycling Update the bottle bill subcommittee is made up of two legislators who have in the past voted for expansion of the bill and two who have voted against it. The subcommittee is currently meeting with different stakeholders and has until June 1 to draft legislation that would ideally bridge the divide between varied interest groups.

"It's a novel approach," Holland said. "Having a specific subcommittee looking at the issue itself is not something I'm aware of having happened in the past."

However, finding a compromise holds clear challenges. "I don't see where that middle point is going to be," said Chris Flynn, president of the Massachusetts Food Association, which represents distributors and retailers. He noted proponents of the bottle bill aren't going to support legislation unless it expands the bill's scope while his group and others aren't going to support action unless it scales the bill back.

Flynn's group is pushing for another bill, still technically alive in the legislature, that would add a 1-cent fee to containers sold in Massachusetts. The fees would be paid by the beverage distribution industry and would go into a fund to help support municipal recycling efforts. Flynn said it's been estimated that such an effort would produce $35 million in funding annually.

"It's a version of producer responsibility legislation so it is somewhat controversial in the business community," Flynn said. "But we came to the consensus that this type of approach made a lot more sense than expanding the current bottle bill."

Environmental groups, meanwhile, have moved to bring the issue to voters, with the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group taking the lead on efforts to collect the first round of signatures needed to bring an expanded bottle onto state ballots later this year. A coalition of groups took a similar ballot-measure approach in 2011 before switching gears and trying to push the expansion through the legislature, another effort that did not ultimately succeed. Holland says bottle bill advocates will need to collect a second round of signatures in June and early July if they want to continue with the campaign this time around.

A referendum move isn't supported by everyone on the pro-bottle bill side, however. "It's not that I don't trust the public," state Rep. Robert Koczera, a Democrat, told Massachusetts news site South Coast Today. "I just think a well-funded campaign by the other side could prevail."

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American Beverage Association

As we’ve said, the bottle bill amounts to a new tax that would be bad for consumers and the economy. Hard-working families and those living on fixed incomes do not need additional costs to contend with when it comes to grocery items. This tax not only represents a new financial burden on those trying to make ends’ meet. It would also potentially hurt small businesses and jobs. Bottom line: this bill represents a lose-lose proposition for citizens and local economies. There are more effective methods of increasing recycling rates than expanding this legislation.

-American Beverage Associatoin

Massachusetts Bottle Bill modifications

It seems that when ever our trusted leaders in the Massachusetts State House find another way to tax or add on fees for specific purposes it eventually ends up in the general fund and not where it was originally proposed. The recycling cause is good but the State House has never found a tax or fee increase that they didn't like to get their hands on. It will be interesting to see how this works out politically and if passed, what groups will receive the funds and how the the funds will be divided up.