Bill to expand bottle law fails in Legislature

The bottle bill is dead, again.

The two-decade effort by environmental advocates to persuade state lawmakers to expand the nickel deposit that encourages recycling of soda, beer, and malt beverage containers to include bottled water, sports drinks, and other noncarbonated beverages will now probably be decided by voters in November.

A final push by a subcommittee in the Legislature to forge a compromise failed after lawmakers said advocates and opponents could not find common ground.


The advocates would only accept a bill that would expand the bottle bill to include noncarbonated beverages, which now account for about 40 percent of all beverages sold in Massachusetts. Opponents, who say recycling has made the bottle bill obsolete, refused to accept any bill that did not scrap the 33-year-old antilitter law altogether.

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“I’m disappointed we couldn’t get the sides together, but the battle lines are now drawn for the ballot,” said Representative Randy Hunt, a Sandwich Republican on the subcommittee who has opposed efforts to expand the bottle law.

He and other lawmakers on the subcommittee said they had negotiated what they thought would make a fair compromise, which included limits on large containers coming under an expanded law and a provision that would end the bottle law once recycling rates reach a certain threshold.

But they were not prepared to push the bill through the legislative process without a consensus from environmental groups and bottling companies, among other interest groups. The last path through the Legislature this session closed when the House and Senate sent a budget bill to the governor Monday without including language to expand the bottle law.

“The four legislators on the subcommittee, including myself, reached a consensus, but the different stakeholders did not agree with that consensus,” said Senator Jamie Eldridge, an Acton Democrat who has long supported expanding the bottle law.


So the advocates are now hoping to persuade voters. They have collected nearly 28,000 signatures as part of the final phase of the ballot initiative process, and more than 19,000 of the signatures have been certified, which they said they plan to submit to the secretary of state Wednesday. To qualify for the ballot, 11,500 signatures have to be validated by the secretary of state.

“I’m disappointed; it’s sad we couldn’t reach a compromise,” said Phil Sego, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Sierra Club, who hoped a legislative solution would avoid the rancor and expense of a ballot initiative. “But this didn’t come as a surprise.”

He and other proponents note that more than three-
quarters of redeemable bottles in Massachusetts get recycled, while fewer than a quarter of nonredeemable bottles are recycled, leaving 30,000 tons of noncarbonated bottles buried in landfills, burned in waste-to-energy plants, or tossed as litter.

Opponents argue that requiring the redemption of bottles in an era when more residents have curbside recycling makes little sense and burdens companies that must provide valuable space in their stores to redeem bottles. They consider the bottle law a wasteful tax.

David Abel can be reached at