Environmental Agency’s Report Praises Bottle Bill Update

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Dept. of Environmental Protection Report Debunks Industry Claims

The Department of Environmental Protection has just released a sweeping report that undermines industry claims of future price increases if the current proposal to update the Bottle Bill is enacted. The report includes a survey of neighboring states and the impacts of bottle bill updates.

The Bottle Bill, or Container Deposit Law, enacted in 1982, places a 5 cent deposit on carbonated beverages. It doesn’t cover water, juices, teas, and sports drinks, because those beverages were not popular in the early 1980’s. A large coalition of 90 organizations is pushing to update the law to include these containers. At a recent State House hearing on the update bill, representatives of the MA Redemption Coalition, proponents of the update, brought two beverage containers of the exact same brand, size and shape. They showcased the fact that while one was carbonated juice and the other plain juice, there was otherwise no difference whatsoever—except that the latter isn’t covered by the deposit law. “It’s common sense to update this successful law and make it current with today’s market,” said Janet Domenitz of MASSPIRG, a proponent of the bill. “Even Fenway Park has a new scoreboard—everything needs an update now and then.” Bottlers and supermarket chains have been arguing against the update, making claims that are, with the DEP report, now disproven.

“Many claims have been made to suggest an updated bottle deposit law will cause Massachusetts to suffer,” per the report. “However, these claims about the negative impact of updating the law need to be examined to insure that a balanced and fair discussion can ensue.”

The report reviewed beverage prices in markets throughout Massachusetts, Maine, and New Hampshire. Maine updated their bottle bill 20 years ago; New Hampshire has no bottle bill.

Although beverage bottlers have claimed that updating the beverage deposit law would increase beverage prices, the report found that prices were nearly identical in both Maine and New Hampshire. In many cases, prices in Maine were lower, despite their larger deposit system.

Other claims that were brought into question were that beverage choices would diminish. The DEP report showed that the variety of beverages was entirely dependent on store size, and no measurable difference in consumer choice was detected.

Beverage bottlers had also warned that the “reverse vending machines” (automated redemption machines) would need to be replaced and expanded, but a study of the expansion in New York disproved this claim. “Our review suggests that an updated bottle bill that excludes bottles larger than 3 liters and juice bottles of all sizes could be easily implemented in Massachusetts stores with the existing infrastructure,’’ said the report.

Last week, a hearing in the State House on the proposed bottle bill drew close to 300 supporters, including civic and environmental groups, garden clubs, redemption center owners, mayors, and more. At one point, dozens of supportive legislators filed into the room to show their support. “It was like a legislative flash mob; I’ve never seen anything like it at a hearing,” remarked James McCaffrey, Director of the Mass Sierra Club and a key supporter of the update.

The new proposal is also being supported by many convenience stores throughout the state, as it allows small stores to be exempted from redeeming empties. Representative Alice Wolf (D-Cambridge), the chief House sponsor of the bill, stated that “We have dealt with issues for small businesses, and mom and pop stores won’t have to collect bottles anymore. This will be a good vote for legislators.’’