Sen. O’Leary, Environmentalists Differ On Future Of Bottle Bill
By: Michael C. Bailey
State Senator Robert A. O’Leary (D – Barnstable) is again promoting a new anti-trash bill as a successor to the state’s bottle bill, but environmental groups are dismissing it as a step backwards.
Sen. O’Leary’s “Act Establishing The Clean Communities and Recycling Grant Program in the Commonwealth” would do away with the state’s 26-year-old bottle bill, which charges consumers a refundable five cents-per-container deposit on all carbonated beverages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic).
The senator’s bill would instead tax manufacturers and distributors of anything that could eventually become trash, rather than targeting end-users (the consumer).
The bill defines “litter” broadly, as “used or unconsumed substance or waste material which has been discarded, whether made of aluminum, glass, plastic, rubber, paper, or other natural or synthetic material, or any combination thereof,” including but not limited to all jars, bottles, and cans and pieces thereof. It also includes cigarettes, cigars, matches; grass clippings and yard waste; and newspapers and magazines.
“Litter-generating products” include items sold in disposable containers “which are commonly discarded in public places,” such as for all alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, all tobacco products, groceries, pet food, household cleaning agents, most products sold at drug stores except medication, and household paper goods (toilet paper, paper towels, etc.).
Manufacturers would be charged 3/100 of one percent of sales, and distributors 2.25/100 of one percent of sales, with that revenue going to fund a Clean Communities and Recycling Grant program, which in turn would fund trash clean-up projects and anti-littering education across the state. Sen. O’Leary estimated that the new system would generate $50 million per year for the program.
Sen. O’Leary first pitched the bill in 2005, around the same time then-Governor W. Mitt Romney proposed expanding the bottle bill to include non-carbonated beverages.
Environmental advocates such as MassPIRG and the Massachusetts chapter of the Sierra Club support an expanded bottle bill, which they say will generate $20 million a year in new revenue, that coming from beverage containers that currently go unredeemed and wind up as trash.
The Massachusetts Senate’s Republican Caucus has formally condemned the bill as punitive toward businesses.
On “Scaling the Hill,” the caucus’s official blog, Senate Republicans said the proposal “penalizes manufacturers and distributors for the actions taken by other people (i.e., littering), over which they have no control. Second, it adds to the already high cost of doing business in Massachusetts at a time when employers can least afford it. And finally, it will force manufacturers and distributors to just pass along the cost increases to the state’s consumers, who have already had to endure more than their share of tax increases this year, between the sales, alcohol, satellite dish, meals and hotel taxes.”
The full text of Sen. O’Leary’s bill may be viewed online at www.mass.gov/legis/bills/senate/186/st01pdf/ST01525.PDF
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