PITTSFIELD -- Bottled drinking water might come with a new deposit and refund if a proposed statewide ballot initiative is successful.
As part of an effort to increase recycling, several major environmental groups and public interest organizations recently announced the collection of more than 130,000 signatures for a petition to expand the state's bottle bill.
The proposed legislation would institute new deposits and refunds on water and juice drinks. The bill would require deposits on most non-alcoholic, non-carbonated drinks, except dairy, infant formula and medicine. It would also not include paper-based materials or juice boxes.
The bill also would require the state to increase future deposit amounts based on changes in the Consumer Price Index. The fees that distributors, bottlers and dealers pay each other for recycled bottles also would be increased.
Previous efforts to pass a similar bill have failed to pass in the Statehouse.
Janet Domenitz, executive director of MASSPIRG, helped coordinate the petition drive.
"We've pushed for this bill for almost 10 years," she said. "It has never come up for a vote in the house."
"After 10 years, we figured it's time to take it to the people."
In the 1980's, when the original bottle bill was approved, "there was no such thing as water bottles," Domenitz said. Presently, only carbonated drinks can be recycled for a refund on deposit.
State Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, called himself a "strong supporter of the bottle bill." Downing, who chairs the committee in the senate which will be taking up the legislation, said he's voted for the legislation multiple times.
"It is an important part of increasing recycling rates," Downing said. He expects the bill to be taken up in January.
State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, supports the expanded bill. "I'm definitely in favor of it," she said. "It's a way to promote recycling with all of the changes in the market.
"There are a lot of legislative hurdles to it," Farley-Bouvier said. Beverage companies have objected to the legislation, she said. She is uncertain if the Legislature will approve the new bill. "We will continue to try."
Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams, supports the bottle bill. "I am in full support," she said. "It's taken too long to get passed."
If the Legislature fails to pass the initiative by May, it will go up as an initiative on the statewide ballot in November 2014, Domenitz said.
The citizen-driven effort included a coalition compromised of the Sierra Club, MASSPIRG, the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts, the Environmental League of Massachusetts, the Emerald Necklace Conservancy, the South Shore Recycling Cooperative, and the Garden Club Federation of Massachusetts.
"It defies logic, why the Legislature has sat on such a popular, common sense and money-saving bill for so many years," Domenitz said. "Maybe this overwhelming signature drive will finally get the message to them to pass this bill."
Domenitz blamed opposition from beverage companies and big chain supermarkets on the failure of prior bills to gain approval in the Legislature. "There is huge public support," she said.
"It's about litter and recycling," said Ryan Black, director of the Sierra Club's Massachusetts chapter. "There's no other system that even comes close to having the same success."
State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, and Rep. Paul Mark, D-Dalton, did not return messages seeking comment.
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