Question 2 asks Massachusetts voters whether to expand the state’s existing 30-year-old bottle deposit law and require deposits for non-alcoholic, non-carbonated beverage containers. The measure is a sensible evolution of the original law. It would address the proliferation of plastic bottles and discourage litter. Voters should approve it.
Currently, consumers pay a 5-cent deposit on bottles and cans of beer and carbonated beverages. The ballot question would require the deposit for bottles of water, juice, sports drink, and iced tea. Consumers could then bring the bottles back to a redemption center to get their deposit money back. (The measure would also gradually increase the deposit amount with inflation; it would take years for it to reach 6 cents.) The deposit system creates a modest incentive for consumers not to throw bottles and cans onto sidewalks or out of car windows. Even when some people do, the availability of the deposit encourages others to pick them up.
Since the bottle bill was enacted, the beverage market has expanded dramatically. The average American now uses 167 disposable water bottles annually but only recycles 38. America’s recycling rate for bottles with no deposit, including water, juice, sports drinks, iced tea, is only 23 percent. According to the Massachusetts Sierra Club, which supports Question 2, about 3.5 billion beverage containers are sold in Massachusetts annually, but the bottle bill covers only two-thirds of them.
Opponents of the measure, funded largely by the bottling and beverage industries, claim that curbside recycling is already deeply ingrained in the Commonwealth, making the expansion of the current law a nuisance. But Question 2 opponents have been using questionable data to make their case, including claiming in an ad that 90 percent of Massachusetts residents had access to curbside recycling; in fact, the correct number is 67 percent. Regardless, promoting the recycling of beverage containers isn’t the only goal of the bottle bill; the availability of curbside recycling doesn’t particularly discourage litter.
There will be a cost to consumers, but only if they choose not to recycle. (It should be noted, unclaimed nickels would go to a dedicated fund to support environmental programs that would pay for parks cleaning and improve recycling.) And there are municipal savings: A 2009 study commissioned by the state Department of Environmental Protection estimated that savings due to reduced collection and disposal costs to cities and towns would be between $4 million and $7 million per year.
For the whole of Massachusetts, and its future as a region that seeks to limit its environmental footprint, the benefits of expanding the bottle bill are clear.