Alternative to bottle bill pitched to boost municipal recycling

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BOSTON >> Legislation that would eliminate the 5-cent deposit on most carbonated beverages and replace it with a 1-cent fee on almost all beverages as a means to promote universal recycling was pitched to legislative staffs Tuesday morning.

Supporters of the bill (H 646) said it could increase recycling by more than 30 percent, slow the rate at which landfills approach capacity, create more than 3,000 new jobs and reduce carbon emissions.

"The goal of this legislation actually is to look at [recycling] in a more progressive and comprehensive way that we are not currently looking at it in," said Sen. Michael Moore, who along with Rep. Mark Cusack, filed the bill last year. "This legislation does expand the type of recycling that we're going to be looking to address. The containers that right now are not covered by the bottle bill will be covered by this and the fee will be picked up by the manufacturers of the bottles."

In 2014, voters decisively voted down an expansion of the so-called bottle bill, a 1983 law that requires a 5-cent refundable deposit on beer and soda cans, among other things. Moore said the bottle bill "was the appropriate legislation at the time," but is no longer sufficient to encourage recycling.

Moore's and Cusack's bills would establish the Municipal Recycling Enhancement Fund, which would make money available for cities and towns to upgrade their recycling infrastructure with an emphasis on single-stream recycling — a system in which all recyclable materials can be placed in the same cart or bin for pickup — and for litter prevention and removal efforts.

That fund would get an initial infusion of about $21 million from unclaimed bottle deposits and then would be built up through the collection of a new, non-refundable 1-cent levy on every beverage container sold by a distributor or wholesaler in Massachusetts for a period of three years. Milk, other dairy-derived products, infant formula and medical food products would be exempt from the assessment.

After three years, the 1-cent levy would go away. Moore said that after the initial three-year period he expects "the grants will be distributed and the infrastructure will be in place to meet the needs of communities."

Bill supporters estimate that the fee would generate about $114 million over the three-year period, bringing the fund's estimated total balance to $135 million, which municipalities could use to build up their own recycling programs.

"Very conservatively, I think that if the measures that are described in H 646 are implemented with the funding that's provided, we would see recycling in Massachusetts go up by as much as 34 percent, a third more recycling than we have today," Kevin Dietly of Northbridge Environmental Management Consultants said. "But what we need is to get everybody with single stream curbside. ... The biggest barrier to that happening is that communities can't afford the carts. Those wheeled carts with the lids cost a lot of money."

The energy savings associated with that 34 percent increase in the recycling rate, Dietly said, could also be enough to prevent some 13 trillion BTUs of energy from being expelled annually — enough to power every house in the city of Worcester for a year, and roughly equivalent to taking about 500,000 cars off the road, he said.

The Container Recycling Institute, a California-based nonprofit, opposes the bill, writing in testimony that it would "result in a big give-away to local and multi-national beverage companies at the expense of municipalities" and that the financial benefits of the bill "are temporary and do not come close to compensating municipalities, businesses and the Commonwealth for their losses."

Since becoming the first state to repeal a bottle bill in 2010, Delaware has seen its total volume of trash deposited in landfills each year decrease from 1.2 million tons to 720,000 tons and its recycling rate increase from 22 percent to 42 percent, according to Delaware Solid Waste Authority Chief of Business and Governmental Services Michael Parkowski, who was on hand Tuesday to highlight implementation of a similar law in Delaware.

Dietly said that, if the bill becomes law, Bay State municipalities could expect to avoid some $60 million in annual waste disposal fees, consumers could save $70 million a year — including about $40 million in uncollected bottle deposits — and the changes would likely generate about 3,600 new jobs in the state.

Because it could affect a number of other issues — like carbon emissions — that are currently being debated at the State House, Moore said he would be open to making his bill part of omnibus legislation.

"There could be initiatives that are pending before the committee and maybe this could be a vehicle that would put together a big piece of comprehensive legislation that deals with commercial waste, that deals with residential waste, that could also affect meeting our climate change goals," he said.


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