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State Rep. Alice K. Wolf has garnered Gov. Deval Patrick’s support in her push to expand the range of recyclable products Massachusetts residents can redeem for cash.
The governor included a provision in his state budget proposal, released last Thursday, which would update the so-called Bottle Bill by making containers for drinks such as water and iced tea eligible for five-cent deposits.
The statute currently on the books restricts redeemable materials to containers for alcoholic or carbonated beverages. This excludes drinks such as bottled water that have grown in popularity since 1982, when the legislator passed the original Bottle Bill.
Wolf, who filed the proposal, referred to it as “win-win, possibly win-win-win.” She has long been an advocate of updating the law, and with the clout of Beacon Hill backing her case she hopes this year’s attempt will yield results.
“This is a bill that will clean up roadsides, essentially because people will make the effort,” Wolf said. “It will give some money to the state coffers, which we could really use right now.”
Bob Keough, a spokesperson for the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, said that the updated bill would both reduce litter and help alleviate some of the “fiscal stress” with which the state continues to grapple.
He noted that unclaimed deposits would help the state to fund public works projects, including expansion of existing recycling programs.
Janet Domenitz, executive director of the advocacy group MASSPIRG, said the update makes sense from both a financial and an environmental standpoint.
“We are throwing away tons of recyclable materials,” she said. “We could eliminate a bunch of waste, we could bring in some revenue for the state for unclaimed deposits and we could be helping the environment.”
Wolf noted that the measure would provide a financial incentive to be more conscientious about recycling, especially for products people consume outside the home.
“Water bottles are very peripatetic,” she said. “People are walking all around with them and they tend to get dumped.”
But John Hurst, president of the Retailer’s Association of Massachusetts, argued that the updated bill would diminish the state’s role and stem the stream of revenue from curbside collection, which he said accrues about $30 million a year.
“It would be an expansion of a flawed concept, one that is rooted in pre-curbside recycling days,” Hurst said. “It’s very costly, and it’s not the most effective method.”
Hurst cited the example of a system already put in place by several Massachusetts communities that imposes a fee for every trash bag a given home places outside for collection, which would encourage consumers to separate trash and recycling.
“I don’t think people need that economic incentive anymore,” he said. “The best economic incentive is the impact on your solid waste bills.”
Hurst also raised a red flag about “fraudulent redemptions,” wherein people from non-deposit states such as New Hampshire come to Massachusetts to cash in on recyclables.
Domenitz dismissed such contentions as “patently absurd,” characterizing them as “the worst kind of recycling, because they’re using the same types of arguments they used in the 80’s.”
Keough said that it is most important that bottles are “recycled in one way or another, by deposit or curbside,” but he said people are about twice as likely to choose the former option.
Don Parsons, the general manager of Downtown Wine and Spirits in Somerville, said the updated bottle bill would help his business because they also see a return on every bottle customers bring in to redeem.
“We absolutely would support [the bill],” he said. “We have a lot of people come in here and throw stuff away so we have to watch the glass piling up in the trash.”
At a time when budget cuts, contracting industries and vanishing jobs are forcing lawmakers to accept some tough tradeoffs, Wolf said the legislature would be ill-advised to pass up this opportunity.
“These days we’re not getting many win-win situations, so I think we should take advantage of one we have,” she said.
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