Updating the Bottle Bill

LATEST INFORMATION: Over 130,000 petition signatures were gathered by the Coalition to Update the Massachusetts Bottle Bill this fall, well over the number needed to qualify the measure for the 2014 ballot. The update is needed because the current Bottle Bill doesn’t cover things like sports drinks, bottled water and iced tea, which results in more than a billion bottles are thrown away in Mass every year.

Signatures were delivered to the statehouse on December 3rd, 2013. The Massachusetts Chapter is going to help with campaigning to get out the vote, in the months ahead.

What is the Bottle Bill?

The Bottle Bill is the common name for the Massachusetts Beverage Container Recovery Law of 1982, Massachusetts General Law (MGL) c.94, s.321-327. The law imposes a refundable $.05 deposit on beer and soda containers thus providing a financial incentive for the public to return them for recycling.

The Bottle Bill is the state’s most successful recycling and litter prevention program. Since the Bottle Bill’s inception in 1983, over 30 billion containers have been redeemed, contributing to a healthier environment, cleaner and safer communities, and a stronger economy. But to keep up with the times and consumer’s tastes, the bottle bill must be updated.

What will Updating the Bottle Bill Do?

Updating the Bottle Bill will add additional beverage containers for products such as bottled water and sport drinks to the list of containers that require a $.05 deposit. The consumption of these beverages has grown exponentially since the adoption of the original bill. An updated bottle bill complements municipal recycling programs by targeting containers that are consumed away from home and are frequently littered and thrown in the trash. As a result, an updated bottle bill increases overall beverage container recycling, supporting jobs within the recycling industry while reducing litter and the waste of valuable resources.

In short an updated Bottle Bill will:

  • be beneficial for the environment
  • decrease litter
  • increase recycling
  • help our cities and towns improve their recycling rates
  • decrease the need for litter collection
  • support jobs within the recycling industry

Why update the Bottle Bill?

The goal of the Bottle Bill is to target beverage containers that generate most of the litter. In 1983, when the law was created, those were beer and soda containers, and the bottle bill has been effective in reducing the number of these found in litter. Today, much of the litter comes from non-carbonated beverages (water, juice, sport drinks, etc.) that have become common over the last few years. We need to update the Bottle Bill to keep it effective.

How to update the Bottle Bill?

To update the law, the Legislature must pass a bill that would expand the containers covered under the law to include away-from-home beverage containers that are not carbonated, such as water, juice, sport drink, ice tea. The updated Bottle Bill would exclude milk beverages, medicines, and infant formula.

What happens to unclaimed deposits?

When a bottle is not returned for deposit (e.g. discarded as trash or placed in a regular recycling bin), the unclaimed deposit currently goes to the state’s general fund. Proponents of the Updated Bottle Bill hope to designate a portion of the unclaimed bottle deposit revenue from bottles included in the updated bill for recycling related initiatives.

How effective is the Bottle Bill?

According to the MassDEP, in 2010 the Massachusetts recycling rate for deposit containers was 71%. Compare this to 23% average recycling rate for beverage containers in states without a Bottle Bill.



Sources: MA Recycle and Sierra Club

Learn more about the Expansion of the MA Bottle Bill

Curious Why Bottle Deposits Still Exists

By Ken Tucci, WBZ-TV

Click here for an informative clip. This initiative needs support. Please log on to the blog and post a positive remark in favor of expanding the bottle bill.

BOSTON (CBS) — Some people just don’t like it; having to haul cans and bottles back to the store to collect deposits.

Scott from Reading Declared his Curiosity asking: “Shouldn’t the deposits be abandoned since most towns offer recycling programs?”

Since the birth of the Massachusetts Bottle Bill almost 30 years ago, billions of containers have been returned. However, some people argue that times have changed.

“When the bottle law originally went into place in the early 80′s there was no curbside recycling or drop off center to bring your recyclables,” says Chris Flynn, head of the Massachusetts Food Association, an industry group that represents food stores. He says we don’t need deposits anymore.

“What we’re essentially doing is bringing part of our trash back to a supermarket. That’s a food store environment. It’s not the place to bring it,” says Flynn.

Since curbside recycling is growing, it certainly would be a lot easier to dump the deposits and dump your bottles and cans into your recycling bin. But without the incentive of getting money back, the question is, would people recycle or just toss those cans and bottles into the trash?

MASSPIRG‘s Janet Domenitz, one of the architects of the original bottle bill, says without deposits, people won’t recycle in the quantities they do now by returning bottles and cans to a store or redemption center.

“Over 70 percent of containers that have a deposit are recycled,” says Domenitz. “We feel we need both curbside and the bottle bill to compliment each other to reach maximum recycling,” she adds.

Meanwhile on Beacon Hill, it’s a story of dueling bills. There are some that would expand the bottle bill to include water, juice and energy drink containers, and at least one that would phase out the bottle bill. So far neither idea has moved forward.

What happens to the deposits that aren’t claimed? The state keeps all those nickels to the tune of about $30 million per year.

Bottle Bill Background info below:

The Massachusetts Bottle Bill

In JUNE, the Massachusetts State legislature will vote on a Bottle Bill Update that, if passed, will dramatically increase recycling rates by including water bottles and other non-carbonated drinks in the 5 cent deposit system. Under the current bottle bill only carbonated drinks are covered by a deposit.

So, while 80% of carbonated drinks are recycled, the recycle rate for water bottles is less than 25%. Without the deposit incentive, a billion bottles a year end up as waste. Although this much-needed update has overwhelming support, powerful beverage companies and distribution lobbies are working behind-the-scenes to block the bill from passing. But the Better Bottle Bill Coalition, a group of concerned students at Harvard and beyond, is fighting back. Please join us as we work with MASSPIRG, Sierra Club and MassRecycle to pass the bill and stop the waste! This is your chance to gain firsthand knowledge of the state legislative process and to make a lasting contribution to our community. This is a dynamic campaign with room to accommodate many levels of commitment – small or large, you can make a difference!


Past Victories, Campaigns, and Local Initiatives

Beaches Act

The Massachusetts Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation uthored, with the help of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, the Beaches Act.

The Beaches Act is a Bill that requires:

Uniform water quality standards for coastal and inland public beach waters. Establishment of consistent beach water testing procedures (a minimum of weekly water testing). The public to be informed about unsafe waters by posting notices at beaches when the water is polluted.

The Beaches Act will protect public safety, improve environmental quality through identification of pollution sources, and will provide resources to municipalities to help with testing.

Why Do We Need the Beaches Bill?

Many beaches become polluted from stormwater runoff and raw sewage overflows. Approximately 26 million gallons of untreated or partially treated sewage is discharged with each heavy rainfall. This equates to approximately 1.1 billion gallons discharged annually. Despite this threat to public health, nearly half of the beaches in the state were not tested once a week and were often tested using outdated and inaccurate testing methods. Most polluted beaches in the state didn’t post warning signs.

To help raise awareness for the Beaches Act, our Chapter hosted two successful Clean Water Paddles in December 1998 & 1999, organized press events on the State House steps and testified before committees. We started letter-writing campaigns and met with legislators and administration.

We are proud to say our efforts paid off! The Beaches Bill was voted out of the House Ways and Means committee, and passed both houses of the Massachusetts Legislature. As a result, Massachusetts beaches (inland and coastal) are tested weekly and warning flags are posted whenever water is found to be polluted.

The Beaches Act wouldn’t have happened without Surfrider’s leadership and we are proud of our success! Massachusetts now joins New Jersey and California on the cutting-edge of beach water quality testing.

Of course, great things are not accomplished alone. We would not have been successful without the impressive efforts of many other environmental groups who helped make this a reality. In particular, the Environmental League of Massachusetts (ELM) helped our chapter from the very beginning until the successful end. MASSPIRG made the Beaches Act the focus of their summer campaign, sending canvassers across the state to rally support for the bill and sent out thousands of postcards to the legislature.

Thanks also to Representative Doug Petersen (D-Marblehead), the lead sponsor of the bill, the environmental groups of the Coastal Advocacy Network, and the Massachusetts Environmental Collaborative, as well as, any of you who helped us along the way!