The Massachusetts legislature failed to pass the “Updated Bottle Bill” by May 7. According to the rules, advocates now have just over a month to collect 12,000 valid signatures (or 22,000 total, to be safe) to put the issue on the general election ballot on Nov. 4.
Right now, consumers pay 5-cent deposits on soda and beer containers, but not on containers for non-carbonated drinks. Certainly, “new age” sports drinks, water, juice and iced tea bottles and cans also pollute.
Polls show that 77 percent of Massachusetts voters want to modernize the bottle bill to include other containers. The City of Boston endorses the update. But after over 12 unsuccessful years of trying to get the state legislature to amend the 1981 bottle bill, frustrated advocates are turning directly to voters.
Local residents Sarah Freeman, Ginnie Marcotte, Louise Johnson and others collected signatures on Lilac Sunday, May 11, at Arnold Arboretum, and many other events. Monroe Heyman was also seen with a petition at the recent Jamaica Hills Association annual meeting.
They were among more than 800 volunteers who already gathered almost 95,000 valid signatures beginning last fall. Since that did not inspire the legislature to pass the update, supporters are seeking additional signatures.
The Emerald Necklace Conservancy (ENC), which advocates for the Olmsted parks in our area, and JP’s Arborway Coalition are members of a statewide coalition of environmental groups backing the bill. ENC is vowing to help collect at least 1,000 signatures before June 6.
“Passing this bill would increase recycling, decrease litter, create jobs, decrease trash going to our landfills and reestablish of the clean environment fund…,” the Sierra Club web site says.
As a result of the original “bottle bill,” 80 percent of bottles and cans covered by the 5-cent deposit program are now recycled. On the flip side, only 20 percent of the other beverage containers get recycled.
According to MASSPIRG, that leaves more than 1 billion bottles to get thrown into landfills or burned in incinerators every year. Or, worthless, they litter landscapes and streets.
Right now, consumers’ five-cent deposit on each beer or soda container goes to the retailer, then the distributor. When someone brings back the container, they get five cents back. The handler gets 2.25 cents per returned bottle or can from the distributor. Distributors turn over unclaimed deposits to the state.
The updated law would add more drink containers to the system, return 3 cents per bottle to the retailer and put remaining money into the Clean Environment Fund, where it originally went.
Strangely enough, some people oppose the updated bill. Most of their fears—including that it will increase costs to consumers, harm recycling, be a tax, hurt the economy and create problems for retailers—have been shown to be unfounded during the current bottle bill’s 30-year history.
We have the power to clean up barrels of litter just by signing our names. To do that, contact Freeman at firstname.lastname@example.org for information. Then vote for it in November.
Sandra Storey was the founding editor and publisher of the Gazette and lives in Jamaica Plain.