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Jimmy Tingle's 5 Cents? Update The Bottle Bill

Jimmy Tingle: "I’m supporting the expanded Bottle Bill to include plastic water bottles and sports drinks, because it’s good for the environment, saves energy and puts money back into the pockets of consumers." Pictured: Sorting bottles and cans at a redemption center in the East Boston, Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014. If approved on Nov. 4, a ballot measure would expand the state's law by adding 5-cent deposits to most non-alcoholic and non-carbonated beverage containers. (Michael Dwyer/ AP)closemore
Jimmy Tingle: "I’m supporting the expanded Bottle Bill to include plastic water bottles and sports drinks, because it’s good for the environment, saves energy and puts money back into the pockets of consumers." Pictured: Sorting bottles and cans at a redemption center in the East Boston, Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014. If approved on Nov. 4, a ballot measure would expand the state's law by adding 5-cent deposits to most non-alcoholic and non-carbonated beverage containers. (Michael Dwyer/ AP)

I knew returnable bottles made sense since I was 11 years old, playing stick ball in the courtyard of the Longfellow Grammar School in Cambridge, Mass.

A Popsicle only cost a nickel, so for four empty Coke bottles, you could get one Popsicle, a piece of liquorice, an Atomic Fireball and one piece of Bazooka bubble gum. In 1966, 8 cents was great money for an 11-year-old!

When the teenagers playing cards or basketball would leave their empty Coke bottles laying around, we’d pick them up and take them back to Sabbey’s or Hymie’s Corner Store and get 2 cents for them. A Popsicle only cost a nickel, so for four empty Coke bottles, you could get one Popsicle, a piece of liquorice, an Atomic Fireball and one piece of Bazooka bubble gum. In 1966, 8 cents was great money for an 11-year-old!

We weren’t really thinking about the environment, we just loved sweets.

I first advocated for the present-day Bottle Bill while living in a dorm in college. The kids in the next suite made a giant pyramid out of hundreds of empty beer cans. Who cares about a pyramid made of beer cans? I thought. If we could get a nickel for every one of those empties, we could get more beer!

Some of our classmates thought we were potential problem drinkers. We assured them we were budding environmentalists.

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To update the current Bottle Bill to include a 5-cent deposit for plastic water containers and sports drinks makes perfect sense to me. I used to drink a lot of Poland Spring water, and on trash day, a big blue bin of plastic bottles went out with the recycling. I remember thinking, If I could get a nickel for every one of those empty Poland Spring bottles, I could upgrade to Perrier.

A 5-cent economic incentive to return and recycle plastic bottles that could otherwise remain in the earth or oceans for the rest of time is an ingenious free market approach to discourage litter, encourage recycling and inspire entrepreneurship, all at the same time.

Opponents say a 5-cent deposit on plastic bottles is a tax. A tax is something you do not get back. When you return the plastic bottle, you get the 5 cents back.

Conversely, when plastic bottles have to be picked up in the parks and playgrounds and plucked off the beaches and out of the lakes and streams by city and state employees funded by our tax dollars, that’s a tax. By opposing the 5-cent deposit and rebate, the bottling industry is taxing us.

I used to drink a lot of Poland Spring water, and on trash day, a big blue bin of plastic bottles went out with the recycling. I remember thinking, If I could get a nickel for every one of those empty Poland Spring bottles, I could upgrade to Perrier.

Rarely will you see bottles or cans that carry a 5-cent rebate littering our public parks, beaches, trails or roadsides. They all get turned in because they have value.

I’ve talked to homeless people asking for money who said that if the bottles and cans strewn around their feet were worth a nickel, they would have been picked up and cashed in a long time ago.

They’re not environmentalists either; they just need the money.

I’m supporting the expanded Bottle Bill to include plastic water bottles and sports drinks, because it’s good for the environment, saves energy and puts money back into the pockets of consumers.

And if the people who originally purchased the drinks don’t want to return the plastic bottles and redeem their nickels, no problem. The kids in the neighborhood, or the needy, will.

I’m sure of it.


Jimmy Tingle's show, “Humor for Humanity,” will play at Harvard's Sanders Theatre January 3, 2015.


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