Updated Bottle Bill Has Support in Concord

In the local fight against plastic bottles piling up in the Pacific Ocean, Concord’s vote to ban the sale of drinking water in plastic bottles was the shot heard ‘round the world, but it wasn’t fired in a vacuum.

Jean Hill’s petitioner’s article, which seeks to ban an everyday item she calls superfluous and wasteful, made a splash. Others in Concord and Carlisle are making waves by backing an updated Bottle Bill that would add bottled water, juice, teas and sports drinks to the state’s existing redemption program.

 “We’ve had a bottle bill since 1983, and everyone acknowledges it’s been the most successful recycling initiative in the commonwealth,” said Launa Zimmaro, a member of the League of Women Voters of Concord and Carlisle. “But since then, the kinds of on-the-go beverages on the market have expanded wildly, and you have all sorts of containers not covered under the bill.”

Zimmaro and the LWVCC are playing a key role in the league’s statewide push for the Legislature to vote on the updated Bottle Bill, which has been stuck in committee for years, before it lets out in July.

Locally, the LWVCC has set up a series of “action alerts” that stress the importance of passing the updated Bottle Bill and explain the issue from environmental and economic perspectives.

“I guess you could call it a blitz education and information campaign,” said Zimmaro, a Carlisle resident. “We’re just trying to make people aware there’s a whole range of new containers out there that aren’t covered, and letting them know why this is important and what we can do.”

Dovetailing with the LWVCC effort, about 60 Concord Academy students recently penned letters urging the passage of the updated Bottle Bill, which LWVCC members delivered, in bottles, to the students’ state representatives and senators.

“This is just so important because it’s such an easy thing to do,” said junior Kate Nussenbaum, co-head of CA’s Environmental Affairs group, which acts as a liaison between students and faculty and the outside world. “Environmental initiatives need to keep up with consumer trends, and the Bottle Bill doesn’t because it doesn’t cover things like water bottles and sports drinks.”


About the Bottle Bill

The Massachusetts Beverage Container Recovery Law, commonly known as the Bottle Bill, was implemented in 1983 and covers beer, malt beverages, carbonated soft drinks and mineral water, as well as sealable bottles, cans, jars and cartons made of class, metal or plastic.

But people drink differently these days. Bottled water sales have exploded, energy drinks entered the market and scores of sports drinks now compete with Gatorade, which got rid of its glass bottles several years ago.

Updated Bottle Bill advocates estimate expanding the state’s beverage container deposit program could collect an additional 1.2 billion containers a year and net $20 million annually in state revenue from unreturned recyclables the state collects and keeps, according to www.bottlebill.org, an online Bottle Bill resource guide.

At CA, the majority of plastic bottles wind up in recycling bins, but Nussenbaum and her classmates in the Green Club and Environmental Affairs witness the potential economic impact firsthand as they maintain the school’s recycling program and sort redeemable bottles from those with no redemption value. The students invest the redemption money in green initiatives on campus.

 “We get about $120 a month now, but it would be a lot more if the Bottle Bill was updated,” said Nussenbaum, a day student from Newton. “I don’t think at CA it’s a big difference between redeemables or not when it comes to recycling. For the most part, bottles are recycled, but it is very hard to get people to put their bottles in the right recycling container.”

While proponents of expanding the Bottle Bill argue the move would save energy and oil, reduce landfill use, decrease litter and create jobs in the recycling sector, retailers and beverage industry giants like Pepsi and Coca-Cola contend the 5-cent deposit is an unnecessary tax in challenging economic times. 

“That’s a fake objection,” said Zimmaro. “It’s not real and it confuses the issue. This is not a tax; it’s a deposit for the consumer. You return your bottle and get that nickel back.”

On Beacon Hill, the biggest pushback is from the border towns, which worry about local mom-and-pops losing even more business to New Hampshire, said state Rep. Cory Atkins, D-Concord.

“They already feel like they’ve gotten the raw end of the stick because of the sales tax, and those cities, like Lawrence or Haverhill or Lowell, have three votes, not one,” said Atkins, who supports updating the bill. “Even if it does come to a vote, I’m not sure how it will go.”

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While I think the proponents of this bill are well meaning, this is another example of some citizens spending too much time (and our precious public resources)  trying to tell other people how to live their lives. The amount of money spent on the whole effort of "the bottle bill" for many years is far in excess of the returns realized.

The recent Concord ban on plastic water bottles will drive many of the people who buy locally to go out of town to buy water, as well as many of their other staples.

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I don't buy water in plastic bottles, I use reusable containers filled from my home filtration system. But, I believe in the rights of every citizen to make their own decisions.

Mark Gelo

Main Street, Concord, MA

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