Massachusetts lawmakers are considering updates to the state's bottle bill that would expand deposit fees to non-carbonated beverages and redirect unclaimed deposits to help fund local recycling programs.
Over a dozen bills proposing changes to the state's 30-year-old container deposit system are set to be heard before a legislative committee Wednesday, including one that would place deposit fees on nearly all beverages, including water, iced tea, juice, and sports drinks.
The current deposit system charges consumers five cents on every bottle or can of soft drink, mineral water, beer or other malt beverage. Consumers can redeem their deposit if they return the containers to a redemption center for recycling. Supporters of the proposed expansion say more deposits would encourage recycling and create a cleaner environment.
"By expanding the nickel deposit to more types of beverage containers, we can increase recycling, protect industry jobs and reduce waste disposal costs for local communities," said Sen. Cynthia S. Creem, a Newton Democrat and sponsor of the Senate version of the bill.
Almost 40 percent of drink containers do not have a deposit, according to Creem, but an increased incentive to recycle more containers would reduce litter, and the cost of disposing of trash for cities and towns.
"These drink containers litter our parks and public spaces, and are thrown away as trash at a cost to our cities and towns," said Creem.
But the expansion would increase the cost to consumers and businesses, say opponents of the bill.
"This is a serious tax on consumers at the wrong time," said Christopher Flynn, president of the Massachusetts Food Association, which represents retailers, manufacturers, and wholesalers in the supermarket and grocery industry.
Flynn said expanding redemption centers and converting machines to accept different bottles could also cost the state's retailers millions of dollars and smaller businesses may not be able to expand to handle the increased volume.
"Logistically it's a nightmare and there's really no need for it," he said. The association instead supports increased curbside recycling and more recycling bins in public parks and stadiums, measures that Flynn described as more efficient and comprehensive than more bottle deposits.
The proposal does aim to promote community recycling programs by establishing a separate fund for unredeemed deposits that would help cities and towns pay for local recycling programs. Unredeemed deposits now go into the state's general fund.
"This is meant to be complimentary to curbside recycling," said Janet Domenitz, director of the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, a top proponent of the proposal. "If there are more container deposits, people get back in the habit of doing redemption."
According to Domenitz, 70 percent of bottles with deposits are recycled, while only 22 percent of bottles without deposits are recycled.
Redemption centers would also receive a one-cent increase in their handling fees under the proposal. The centers now receive 2.25 cents per container, and have not seen an increase since 1991. The bill proposes a 3.25-cent fee, which would be reassessed periodically.
Lawmakers considered the same proposal last year, but the legislative session ended before it could be formally debated. Gov. Deval Patrick added legislation expanding bottle deposits to his budget proposal in January, but the legislation was not included in the state's final spending plan.
Another bill on Wednesday's hearing schedule would eliminate deposits on all containers in the state.