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Move recycling programs forward

A bill pending at the State House offers the Commonwealth a real chance to be on the cutting-edge of recycling programs and serve as a national leader on recycling reform. Dorchester, along with communities across the state, would benefit.

An Act to Improve Recycling in the Commonwealth, proposed by Rep. John J. Binienda (D-Worcester) and Sen. Michael O. Moore (D-Millbury), would greatly expand programs that have proven to be successful: curbside pickup, which allows us to recycle at our doorsteps, and single-stream recycling, which allows us to toss all recyclables into one bin. Convenient, comprehensive approaches like these are the future of recycling.

Unfortunately, this progressive plan is being dismissed by some in our state who are stuck in the past. These individuals are looking to expand a law that has long outlived its purpose: the bottle bill.
The bill, which mandates a five-cent tax on beer and soda products, served a useful purpose when it was initially implemented over 30 years ago, building our awareness and understanding of recycling. Today, that awareness is strong, but the task in front of us is to make recycling as easy and accessible as possible.

The Binienda-Moore bill aims to make it more convenient for households to recycle numerous materials at once. The bill would also make recycling more accessible in public places, while launching litter prevention and education programs. These reforms are designed to offer sustainable change, while transitioning away from a bottle bill that is costly, outdated, and inefficient.

Despite its inefficiencies, proponents have spent years pushing for proposals to expand the bottle bill, which would add a five-cent tax to bottled water, juice, iced tea, and sports drinks. It is estimated that this move would increase the state’s recycling rate by just 1/8 of one percent. It targets a sliver of the waste stream that pales in comparison to the comprehensive body of recyclables that curbside and single-stream programs address. Despite these discouraging figures, bottle bill expansion is hailed by its proponents as key environmental legislation.

Expanding the bottle bill is not an environmental solution, but an expensive inconvenience for many.

It would burden small businesses that simply don’t have room to store unlimited numbers of beverage containers – especially those purchased from larger retailers and returned to neighborhood stores that are close by, causing space constraints and sanitation issues.

It would burden families that would pay a five-cent tax on bottles and cans they already recycle on their doorsteps.

It would burden residents of the Commonwealth who would pay for this program but see no significant boost in recycling.

The entity that would not be burdened by bottle bill expansion is state government. The state stands to gain over $20 million in new revenue – money paid at the checkout counter by residents like you and me – from unclaimed deposits. And there is no requirement for this money to be spent on environmental programs. Bottle bill expansion looks like a massive tax on the people who can afford it the least.

Legislators have seen through this proposal for years, which is why it rightfully has not moved forward at the State House. Proponents are now working to place it on the ballot. Voters should be well aware of this proposal’s many flaws.

It’s time to turn the discussion about recycling toward reform that will make a difference. This means moving forward, away from an outdated bottle redemption law and toward recycling programs that are comprehensive, efficient, and up to date.

Chris Flynn is the president of the Massachusetts Food Association and a member of Real Recycling for Massachusetts.