Earlier this month, Massachusetts landed at 28th on the roster of business-friendly states — a crushing drop from our sixth place rating just last year. This ranking is particularly unsettling at a time when families across the state are struggling financially and a business-friendly environment is needed most.
Rarely has it been more critical for our state to adopt policies that will help businesses and our economy flourish. This was the supposed intent of a jobs bill the Legislature is slated to pass by the end of the month. Unfortunately, the Senate voted last week to tag this bill with a job-killing tax that Massachusetts families and businesses cannot afford. On a voice vote, the Senate passed an amendment to expand the state’s bottle bill by adding a five-cent fee to bottled water, juice, iced tea, and sports drinks.
This new fee on beverages — a massive expansion of the state’s current bottle law, which charges an extra five cents for beer and soda — is a new tax on Massachusetts families. Bottle deposit proceeds go directly to the state, and proponents themselves have touted the estimated $20 million in revenue that an expanded bottle bill could yield. This means more money from the pockets of Massachusetts families to be used for more government spending.
The costs ushered in by an expanded bottle bill don’t even stop at the five-cent fee. Bottle bill expansion requires grocers large and small to act as redemption centers and collect empty bottles and cans in their stores, which causes companies to increase overhead costs and give up valuable retail space — the latter is especially troubling for small businesses in which every square foot of space is crucial. These overhead costs burden businesses and can easily trickle down to consumers. When price hikes are combined with burdens on bottlers and retailers, bottle bill expansion could result in $58 million added to the amount that families spend on groceries. These striking costs make it ever more ironic that bottle bill expansion is included in a bill that is supposed to create economic development.
In this era of green energy and deep, justified concerns about our environment, these sweeping hits to consumers and businesses might even be palatable – if there were any real environmental benefit from expanding the bottle bill. Bluntly put: This anti-business, anti-consumer tax is also fundamentally anti-environment.
Bottle bill expansion targets such a narrow portion of the waste stream that it would only increase the state’s recycling rate by 0.12 percent — that’s less than one percent for a law that will cost consumers, burden businesses and jeopardize good-paying jobs. Redemption is an outdated, environmentally-detrimental means of recycling. Consider: Going the deposit redemption route to recycling a can or bottle is four times as costly as putting that can or bottle in your curbside bin — without the wasted fossil fuel of a store trip, without the wasted store space and without handing the state another nickel to be used as they see fit.
Massachusetts needs recycling reform. Bottle bill expansion, however, is in no way the kind of reform we need to make a dent in our state’s recycling rate and reduce waste. Just last month, Massachusetts food and beverage companies announced an initiative to put our state on the road to real recycling reform by launching a pilot program that will aid communities looking to utilize pay-as-you-throw recycling, which has proven highly effective in reducing waste, while also helping communities make recycling more accessible in public places.
Bottle bill expansion is even more out of place as part of a jobs bill when one considers that it would actually put nearly 4,000 industry jobs at risk. New York saw a job-drop after a more limited expansion of their bottle bill in 2009 led to plant closures and job losses. Massachusetts cannot afford to put this many good-paying jobs at risk. Not ever, and especially not now when our state needs a stronger economy and a healthier environment, and bottle bill expansion does not achieve either of these.
Chris Flynn is president of the Massachusetts Food Association.