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ANYONE WHO walks the back roads of the state can attest that containers littering them are at least as likely to be from Poland Spring as Budweiser. Beer cans and bottles require a 5-cent deposit, ensuring that most are returned. Containers for water, fruit juices, and sports drinks do not carry a deposit, so many end up on roadsides.
Broadening the Massachusetts bottle bill to include these other containers has been a top priority for environmentalists. But many retailers worry about the additional processing a broader law would require and have opposed it. Now a container-redemption service in Maine has demonstrated how to recycle large quantities of cans and bottles in a way that does not greatly inconvenience either consumers or stores.
Maine is just one of three states - California and Hawaii are the others - that have broadened their bottle-deposit laws beyond beer and soda containers. Aiding in public and business acceptance of the Maine law has been a system of redemption centers that takes much of the mess out of processing empty containers. Consumers register with the service and get special bags and personalized bar-code stickers. When they fill a bag, they stick their bar code on it and take it to a center, which calculates the value of the containers and credits it to the consumer's account. No muss, no fuss.
Thanks in part to such centers, about 93 percent of all deposit containers in Maine are being redeemed. In Massachusetts, the figure is less than 66 percent. Critics of deposit laws say residents should simply include beverage containers in their curbside recycling, but - aside from the fact that fewer than half of Massachusetts communities participate in curbside recycling - the companies that purchase recycled aluminum or glass prefer the relative cleanliness of deposit returns. As Maine goes, so could Massachusetts go in the quest for improved recycling.
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