The Massachusetts Legislature has repeatedly failed to respond to advocates seeking to expand the bottle bill to include non-carbonated drinks. An expanded law has been passed several times by the state Senate only to languish in the House and receive no action. This year advocates are turning to voters and gathering signatures to put a measure on the ballot.
They are almost there. More than 90,000 signatures have been certified so far. If another 12,000 are gathered and certified by June 18, it will be up to voters, not the Legislature, whether it is time to start charging a nickel deposit per bottle of non-carbonated drinks.
It’s about time. It makes no earthly sense to charge a deposit on bottles of carbonated drinks but ignore all others. The system of deposit and redemption works. Three times as many carbonated drink containers are recycled than non-carbonated drink containers. Some challenge that statistic but the system could still be said to work well if twice as many carbonated drink containers were recycled.
According to the state DEP, some 30,000 tons of non-carbonated drink containers are thrown away each year. An expanded bottle bill would improve that dismal statistic.
The Legislature is responding to the end run. The Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, which has oversight over the bottle bill, has appointed a subcommittee in an attempt to reach a compromise. It is difficult to image that will happen.
The Massachusetts Food Association’s idea of compromise is to charge a deposit for all containers but lower it to a penny and use the revenue to encourage recycling. It is probably a fine idea to charge less for deposits; redemption centers are largely automated and much more sophisticated than when the bottle bill was approved 33 years ago. But it is clear today that encouragement alone is not effective motivation. There can’t be a resident in the state that isn’t aware that recycling has value or at least is considered important by most people. Money, even if it’s pennies, is the better motivator.
The Legislature has had its chance to improve the bottle bill. It has failed. Now voters are going to take control of the situation and there will finally be some action on the issue.