In 1983, when most places hadn´t yet instituted curbside recycling programs,
Massachusetts passed a bottle deposit law that helped combat litter and removed recyclable material from the waste stream.

Now, some state residents are saying the deposit law should be expanded,
while others contest that it would only add shine to a worn out system.

If the measure is extended, “over a billion containers would be pulled from
the waste stream,” said Greg Cooper, director of consumer programs at the
Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

Advocates such as Cooper say that the state´s 80% return rate is proof that
the law has worked and should be retooled to keep pace with a growing beverage
industry and changing consumer habits.

The bill would extend the reach of the deposit law from a 5-cent deposit on
bottles of sparkling water, soda pop, beer and other malt beverages to include
noncarbonated offerings such as juice, water, iced tea and sports drinks.

But not all are pleased with the pending legislation.

At least 20 businesses, trade associations and unions have formed Real
Recycling for Massachusetts to oppose the bill.

Chris Flynn, president of the Massachusetts Food Association and a member of
the Real Recycling coalition, said about 90% of residents have access to
DEP-approved collection programs that are more comprehensive than the
bottle-focused approach the bill emphasizes.

Flynn estimates the new mandate will cost 10 times more than curbside
recycling to maintain, and the current system costs nearly four times more, he
said.

“This a very archaic approach,” Flynn said. “This doesn´t make sense. We
should be doing the most cost-effective and efficient thing” by expanding
municipal programs.

According to Real Recycling, the bill would raise operating costs by millions
of dollars, forcing businesses to lease and maintain additional reverse-vending
machines. Storing more bottles would also take up more retail space, Flynn said.

Kevin Dietly, principal of Northbridge Environmental Management Consultants
in Westford, Mass., said the financial impact would hurt consumers in the long
run.

“The [proposed] expansion will cost $58 million to operate,” he said.
“Somewhere along the line, consumers will pay $58 million more on their
groceries. That money has to come from somewhere.”

The DPE disputes that assertion. The department surveyed supermarket chains
and retail outlets in four states: Massachusetts, which has the 1983 law; New
Hampshire, which has no deposit law; Connecticut, which has a deposit law on
carbonated beverages and water; and Maine, which has a deposit law on carbonated drinks, flavored water, juices, and other beverages.

Cooper said the study, which took place from May to July, found that there
were no price changes due to businesses dealing with returnable bottles.

Some drinks cost more in states with no bottle deposit law, Cooper said, and
supermarkets with a regional presence displayed consistent pricing from
state-to-state regardless of deposit measures.

For example, the study found that a Gatorade 8-pack costs less in Maine,
where it has a deposit, than in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, where it
doesn´t. DPE research also found that a 20-ounce Coca-Cola costs 2 cents more on
average in deposit-free New Hampshire, than it does in Massachusetts.

Dietly said DPE´s data is misleading at best, because pricing strategies at
companies vary.

The real reason Massachusetts is pushing for an expansion to the bottle law,
he said, is the additional revenue it would gain from unclaimed deposits.

Cooper said the proposal isn´t just about money. Although curbside recycling
is convenient, it doesn´t work with litter in public areas like parks, where
Massachusetts residents are four times more likely to dispose of nonreturnable
containers in the trash than they are returnable bottles, he said.

And returnable beverage bottles are the most recycled items in the state.

“The food association said we should handle this curbside, but if you look at
these containers, a large amount of them are consumed outside of the home,”
Cooper said.

Contact Waste & Recycling News reporter Vince Bond Jr. at
vbond@crain.com or 313-446-1653.

PDF Copy

Advertisements