Bottle Bill Debate

MORE THAN TWO DECADES after its inception, Massachusetts' bottle bill could be in for some changes. Some state legislators want to expand the bill to include more types of beverage containers. As of late January, one state senator was preparing legislation that would abolish the bill and replace it with a tax on certain products.

The bottle bill, which took effect in 1983, requires consumers to pay refundable 5-cent deposits on beer and soda containers. The state has a carbonated beverage container recycling rate of 69 percent, says the Container Recycling Institute, Arlington, Va.

In January, State Rep. Douglas Petersen, D-Marblehead, introduced a bill (HD3689) that would expand the bottle bill to include non-carbonated beverage containers, such as those for sports drinks, teas, fruit juices and water. The proposed bill also would add containers of wine, champagne and spirits. State Sen. Andrea Nuciforo Jr., D-Pittsfield, has introduced a companion bill.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Robert O'Leary, D-Barnstable, has been preparing legislation that would eliminate the bottle bill. In its place, the legislation would impose a tax on distributors of products — such as cans, bottles, newspapers and tires — that often end up as litter. Julie Holstrom, an aide to O'Leary, said in January that the senator had yet to determine the tax rate. The taxes would go into a fund that would finance anti-litter and recycling efforts, she says.

O'Leary's main objection to the bottle bill is that unclaimed deposits go into the state's General Fund and do not necessarily support environmental programs, Holstrom says. Bottle bill supporters say abolishing it would cause recycling rates to decline.