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Mass. Senate Again Votes For Bottle Bill Expansion

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The Senate voted late Wednesday to expand the bottle redemption law to cover more beverages, including water and energy drinks. The House last session declined to agree to a bottle bill expansion plan added by the Senate to an economic development bill.

Sen. Cynthia Creem of Newton expressed hope that the House this year will agree to tack the major policy change onto the fiscal 2014 budget during conference committee talks. The expanded “bottle bill” has been a mainstay of State House debates for years, with environmentalists arguing that it is an effective program to increase recycling, while opponents have argued that it is an outdated approach that would burden retailers with taking in more used bottles and cans and increase consumer prices.

The Senate budget amendment exempts “dairy products, beverages containing a minimum of 10 percent juice, infant formula and medicines” from the expansion, which would include a range of new beverage containers defined as “noncarbonated soft drinks, including, but not limited to mineral water, flavored and unflavored water, spring water, fruit drinks that contain less than 10 percent juice, sports drinks and other water beverages, coffee and coffee-based drinks.”

The 5 percent deposit currently applies to beer and carbonated beverages. “Updating the bottle bill is like a hat trick,” said MassPIRG Executive Director Janet Domenitz. “Increases recycling, reduces litter and saves cities and towns on trash pickup.” Domenitz and Phil Sego, of the Sierra Club of Massachusetts, said the prospects for the bill becoming law are greater this session. “The Senate’s very serious about it,” said Sego, who said unlike previous years he has seen “no pushback at all this year” within the Senate.

Critics of the bottle bill expansion this year are pushing a plan that would phase out the 5-cent deposit on cans and bottles, replacing it with a 1-cent fee paid by distributors and bottlers, which would be used to fund recycling efforts. “The Senate’s move to burden Massachusetts families with two new taxes today without a debate is appalling,” Chris Flynn, president of the Massachusetts Food Association and member of Real Recycling for Massachusetts, said in a statement released after the Senate vote.

“Make no mistake. This is not about recycling. It’s about propping up and expanding an inefficient bottle bill that does nothing but take millions and millions of nickels from the pockets of everyday people to pay for whatever state government wants to do with the money. The dirty little secret here is the expected $20 million in new revenue from unredeemed containers — to be paid by the already overtaxed people of Massachusetts, on top of the increased prices that will result from a higher handling fee.”

This program aired on May 23, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

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