Friday July 22, 2011

Upgrades to the state's bottle law have been a Beacon Hill staple even longer than gambling has, and on Wednesday about a dozen bills were presented before a legislative committee. The 30-year-old law is no longer fulfilling its potential and this session should finally be the one in which it gets refined and updated.

Under the current system, customers can get five cents back on the return of cans and bottles, primarily those that contained soft drinks or beer. Since the bill became law in 1981, there has been an explosion in the sales of bottled water, iced tea, juices and sports drinks, the latter of which are a fairly recent invention. These cans and bottles are now clogging landfills and cluttering the environment.

According to Cynthia Creem, a Newton Democrat and sponsor of an expanded bottle law in the Senate, about 40 percent of drink containers now on the market don't fall under the law's purview. Expanding the nickel deposit to these cans and bottles would benefit the environment and be a powerful inducement to residents to recycle. This is what happened when the bottle bill was passed in the first place and it will happen again.

Opponents like the Massachusetts Food Association claim that an expanded bottle law will increase costs for businesses and consumers, which is the same argument made 30 years ago before the law proved its value. The MFA proposes instead that curbside recycling be increased and recycling bins be placed in public parks and stadiums, and while these are good ideas they should be adjuncts to an expanded bottle law. The Senate bill would encourage community recycling programs by assuring that unredeemed deposits go to help pay for local recycling programs rather than into the general fund.

Legislators three decades ago could not have anticipated the arrival of Vitamin Water, Red Bull, Powerade, Snapple, SoBe Life Water and all of the other makes and models of new drinks glutting the market. They also glut roadsides, forests and landfills and the bottle law must be changed to reflect this reality.