Local Store Challenges Massachusetts Bottle Recycling Law

Hudson, Mass. -- Christi and Larry Muise, owners of a convenience store with a bottle recycling program, are the latest to challenge Massachusetts' controversial bottle recycling law. The state is one of only 10 in the country with a bottle recycling law, which has been in effect for 18 years.

The Muises say that they cannot afford the cost of their bottle recycling program and have chosen to redeem customers only 4 cents per bottle instead of the law-abiding 5 cents to cover their costs. They also say that most of their customers have signed a petition agreeing to take the 4-cent return until the state raises its handling fee.

State officials say the couple is breaking the law, but also note that the 2.25-cent-per-container handling charge paid to redemption centers is low and should be changed to cover costs. The handling fee has not been changed since 1990, and has not taken into account rises in standards of living and other economic factors.

While they are not the first to challenge the law, the Muises' action has stirred debate as to whether or not to increase the handling fee. Also, distributors are arguing against the law because it increases costs to pick up and process bottles and cans. Others contend that the law is unnecessary because curbside recycling programs could accomplish the same goal with fewer hassles. And some environmentalists argue that it does not go far enough and should include fruit drink containers.

State officials are considering enforcement action against the Muises but remain sympathetic. It is clear that the state understands redemption centers' dilemma -- to make up for the lack of handling fee increases, the state has given nearly $1 million in grants to more than 150 redemption centers over the past two years. A bill also is pending in the state legislature that would apply more money directly to redemption centers, although the Muises say that the pending legislation has not moved in the legislature for several years.

To compliment the Muises' situation, a 1999 study noted that redemption centers' complaints about being driven out of business may be true -- the number of centers in the state decreased from 250 in 1995 to 130 in 1999.