Massachusetts’ Bottle Bill: Pro & Con


A May 23rd article and related reader comments on wbur.org about the Massachusetts bottle bill brought up some points about the current bottle/can recycling topic that I hadn’t thought about. Proponents feel charging a redemption fee on bottles aid in reducing litter and increasing recycling. Opponents think the program is outdated since many communities accept redeemable bottles and cans in their aluminum and plastics recycling programs. I don’t know which way I fall on the bottle bill but here are some of my thoughts.

1. The fee, though a low 5 to 10 cents in many state programs, is a fee the buyer must pay to purchase that item. Consumers cannot opt out of paying the fee at the point of purchase by recycling the containers through a curbside recycling program or other available recycling option. As a commenter notes, the bottle bill was created long before curbside recycling became popular.

2. The buyer must make the effort to collect and store the cans/bottles before bringing them to a collection station. Materials can be brought to a supermarket or other drop off point as part of the weekly errands, reducing the need for a separate trip that increases the carbon footprint of the user and the process. However, a curbside recycling program comes with the equipment (bin or tote) needed store the items. And, the user then moves that bin/tote to the curb, without taking a trip in his car.

3. Expanding the types of containers that are part of this program increases the purchase price of family groceries for consumers. It may also cause confusion about what containers can be recycled when part of the definition includes a maximum percentage of contents (less than 10% juice). Consumers may not bother trying to determine which bottles are which in order to redeem their nickel.

4. Redeeming containers to recoup the fee keeps these materials out of curbside recycling programs. The more material collected via curbside recycling, the lower the cost of the program, which is most likely passed on to community residents.

5. Having the bottle bill in addition to municipal recycling programs increases options for residents. Not all communities have curbside recycling. They may need to travel to a dump site or recycling center. Adding a stop at a redemption station might not be onerous.

6. A nickel or dime fee might not be enough incentive to prompt someone to redeem the container. An increase in the fee might increase the incentive but it would increase the financial burden on the purchaser at the front end.

7. Uncollected fees apparently are not put directly back into recycling programs. If the funds were put towards education about recycling, programs would become much more useful and cost-effective. On the other hand, utilizing this money as needed may reduce tax increases as a way to fund whatever those monies are currently used for.

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. bottlebill.org has a wealth of information-thanks for sharing that source. I’m a bit surprised that so few states have bottle bills. You raise a good point that bottle bills hold the consumer and producer responsible. That nickel value can prompt people to recycle.Thanks for your comment.

  2. Bottle bills are in place around the world, and are the most effective way to increase recycling and reduce litter. Without bottle bills, container recycling rates are around 30% or less; in states with bottle bills containers are returned at rates of 70-95%. In the US, ten states have bottle bills, and these states recycle more containers than the other 40 states combined. The MA bottle bill expansion has huge support. The lobbyists are few in numbers but large in dollars, don’t be fooled by the lobbyists. Bottle bills hold producers and consumers responsible, otherwise, the cost of collecting and disposing of recyclables and trash is left to local government and taxpayers, as well as the cost of dealing with all the litter. Bottle bills are hugely successful because they place an incentive on returning the container, and that works, but it’s also because containers consumed generally away from home. People return bottles in conjunction with other errands, so I don’t think it’s fair to point at carbon footprint. If we want to talk about carbon footprint, how about using refillable bottles? The lobbyists point to loss of aluminum revenue for curbside programs, but they fail to mention the costs of collecting materials such as glass and plastic. Numerous recent studies have shown that bottle bills save money for recycling programs, not rob them of revenue. Over 200 MA cities and towns support the expansion because it will save them money and reduce litter cleanup. Thank you for raising this discussion and your points. Some of my information: source: bottlebill.org


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