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STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, SEPT. 17, 2013….Soda company representatives fighting a strong push to expand the state’s bottle redemption law argued Tuesday that adding the 5-cent deposit to additional drinks is an outdated idea from the 1970s and ‘80s that would put unnecessary burdens on retailers, businesses and consumers.
A polarizing issue that has lingered on Beacon Hill for more than a decade, proposals to expand the bottle deposit were before lawmakers on the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee for a legislative hearing. Frustrated with lawmakers, the bill’s supporters are also angling to put the proposal on the 2014 ballot.
The committee is weighing bills to expand the deposit law to additional drinks (H 2943/S 1588), while also looking at a proposal to eliminate the deposit and replace it with a 1-cent fee on beverage containers with the revenues earmarked to bolster "pay as you throw" and other recycling programs (H 2513/S 379).
Since it went into effect in 1983, the 5-cent deposit has only applied to beer and carbonated beverages. Environmentalists say it is time to expand the law to increase recycling, cut down on litter and capture beverages that are popular among consumers.
Soda company representatives said adding the deposit to juice, flavored water and other non-carbonated beverages fails to solve solid waste problems, and does not take into account advances in recycling.
“In short, we see the bottle bill as a grossly inefficient method of collecting a very small slice of the total recycling opportunity,” said Mike Elmer, director of capabilities at Bottling Company of Northern New England, an independent distributor of Coca-Cola.
Rick Koles, a reclamation manager for Pepsi Beverages Co., said adding the deposit to more beverages will increase company costs, lead to higher prices at the register, and shift sales to other states.
“In addition, the potential loss of sales due to the increased cost burden on the consumer, coupled with shifts in sales from Massachusetts to the bordering communities such as New Hampshire and Rhode Island, only increases the chance for the loss of good-paying Massachusetts jobs, and this is a concern,” Koles said.
A perennial proposal on Beacon Hill, bottle law expansion bills won support in the Senate twice - once this year in the fiscal 2014 budget and last year in an economic development bill. It has never passed in the House of Representatives. Speaker Robert DeLeo has repeatedly expressed reservations, calling it a tax.
Voters could get the chance to decide next year. A ballot initiative question, backed by several environmental groups, was certified last month by Attorney General Martha Coakley as eligible for the ballot, enabling its supporters to begin collecting signatures.
The Patrick administration supports expanding the deposit to additional drinks.
Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Rick Sullivan said during the hearing there are approximately 1.5 billion non-deposit bottles sold each year in the state. He said adding a deposit to juice and other non-carbonated beverages will translate into less trash and savings for cities and towns. If the deposit is expanded, municipalities could save approximately $6 to $7 million a year by handling less trash, according to Sullivan.
Thomas Philbin, legislative analyst with the Massachusetts Municipal Association, said adding the deposit to other drinks will not only cut trash costs, it will enhance residents’ quality of life by reducing litter. When the deposit was added to soda and beer cans in 1983 it was impossible to foresee the explosion of bottled water, sports drinks and other specialty drinks that now litter streets, Philbin said.
Not all municipal officials who testified were in favor of the expanding the deposit.
Dan Matthews, a selectman from Needham, told lawmakers that the bottle bill “is needlessly inefficient and expanding it will only make matters worse.” Curbside recycling recovers more recyclables at less cost, he said.
Matthews dismissed debate about whether the deposit is a tax.
“Just because you can say something isn’t a tax doesn’t mean it is not a problem, or there isn’t a better way to do it,” Matthews said.
Opponents of the adding the deposit to more drinks argue charging people more money will not cut down on trash and litter.
Sen. Michael Moore (D-Millbury) said adding the deposit to other drinks will not help reduce waste. Moore and Rep. John Binienda (D-Worcester) are backing bills to phase-out the existing deposit and replace it with a 1-cent fee on containers to support recycling programs.
According to EPA data, approximately 32 percent of municipal solid waste is paper, Moore said. Adding the deposit to more containers would only increase recycling by 1 percent, he said.
Expanding the bottle bill has a lot of support in the Legislature.
Ninety-five lawmakers have signed on as co-sponsors of bills that expand the deposit. At one point during Tuesday’s hearing, 16 lawmakers stood together in front of the committee to express support.
Rep. Jonathan Hecht, a Watertown Democrat, spoke for the group, saying for a long time there were “vague promises about something better” than the bottle bill. The proposal that opponents introduced this legislative session would not be better because it repeals the entire redemption system and the bottles now redeemed would end up in landfills, he said.
Hecht said the public supports the bottle bill. “If people didn’t like the bottle bill, would 95 rank-and-file members of the Legislature put their names to a bill to expand it?” Hecht said. “They support it because people in their districts support it.”
Along with Hecht, the lawmakers included Reps. Jason Lewis (D-Winchester), Frank Smizik (D-Brookline), Paul Heroux (D-Attleboro), Ruth Balser (D-Newton), Jeffrey Roy (D-Franklin) Paul Brodeur (D-Melrose), John Rogers (D-Norwood), Tricia Farley Bouvier (D-Pittsfield), Denise Provost (D-Somerville), Josh Cutler (D-Duxbury), and Paul Mark (D-Peru), along with Sens. James Eldridge (D-Acton), Kenneth Donnelly (D-Arlington), Katherine Clark (D-Melrose) and Patricia Jehlen (D-Somerville).
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