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Thomas Farragher

Bottle bill opponents overplayed their hand

Jorge Pereira works at sorting bottles and cans at a redemption center in East Boston.Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

Another beautiful Saturday has dawned over our Commonwealth.

Moms and dads watch kids chase soccer balls across green fields. Young couples stare dreamily into each other’s eyes, sharing a leisurely breakfast at a favorite café. Sunlight dances on the Charles River as it holds the bright reflection of taut runners.

Me? I’m headed for the dump.

Actually, it’s the local transfer station. I pack my wife’s small SUV with bags of newspapers and magazines, a small mountain of collapsed cardboard boxes, and a big blue crate overflowing with milk jugs, water bottles, drained containers of Gatorade. I even squeeze in a bag or two of garbage.


Somewhere the spirits of John Muir, Rachel Carson, and Henry David Thoreau are smiling as I drive across town to do my part in our community’s booming recycling effort.

I’m as green as the next guy. But the idea of turning my basement, where boxes of Diet Coke and Miller Lite cans already sit until there are enough to merit a separate trip to redeem their nickel deposits, into a holding unit for still more returnables does not make my heart soar.

So, apparently like most of you, I was ready to vote against Question 2, which would extend the 5-cent deposits to bottles of water, sports drinks, and the like. We already have a vibrant bottle bill. Enough already.

Then came the deceit.

It’s beyond me why a campaign with smart advisers and mountains of money would peddle a message so demonstrably false.

I can’t get beyond it.

In August, 62 percent of likely voters supported expanding the bottle bill. Then the American Beverage Association and the big super market chains began to play dirty pool.

They launched a barrage of ads that said 90 percent of state residents have curbside recycling. Support tanked. And by early last month, just 33 percent supported the measure, according to the Globe poll.


But that early ad blitz, no longer airing, was wrong. The number of residents with access to curbside recycling is not 90 percent. It’s about 65 percent. But Question 2 opponents, who have spent $8.2 million this year, had carried the day. The Globe poll this week shows support has slipped to an even more anemic 29 percent.

“I never like seeing data, especially our data, presented incorrectly,’’ said David Cash, the commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection, which tracks municipal recycling. He said the 90 percent number is flatly incorrect, something Question 2 opponents now tacitly acknowledge.

Some of the state’s top environmentalists advised me this week to stop dislocating my shoulder patting myself on the back for recycling at home. Most of us do that. The problem, they point out, is the mountain of trash that accumulates when we take our bottles and cans to the beach or the park.

Eighty percent of beer and soda cans are recycled. But just 23 percent of nondeposit containers are. “A staggeringly huge disparity,’’ Phil Sego of the Massachusetts Sierra Club said.

To get an idea of the ground-level opposition to the bottle bill expansion, I spent some time this week with some of the foot soldiers in the No on Question 2 campaign. The green community might be surprised to learn that they are not evildoers.

I toured the enormous Casella Resource Solutions recycling plant in Charlestown this week, where 150 employees work two shifts from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., processing up to 1,000 tons of material a day. Impressive stuff. Predictably, officials there want the state to more vigorously embrace recycling, not deposits.


But even one of its campaign figures, Bob Moylan, Worcester’s former public works commissioner, knows the campaign’s early ads were a mistake.

“The credibility of our case was jeopardized,’’ said Moylan. “And the opponents pounced.’’

After vastly outspending Question 2 proponents, the beverage industry and big supermarkets are on track for a landslide win 10 days from now that will make Richard Nixon’s 1972 trouncing of George McGovern look like a nail-biter.

They were probably going to win anyway. Along the way, they tossed out their credibility. And that is not redeemable.

Thomas Farragher is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at thomas.farragher@