By Steve Herman
House Bill 646 has been christened the Universal Recycling Bill, a title suggesting a lofty and sweeping vision of an omnibus recycling program for the Bay State. It should have your bull detectors tingling. In just three years this legislation, if adopted, will begin the unraveling of recycling in Massachusetts. Here are some highlights:
- H646 repeals the current 5 cent refundable container deposit;
- Instead it imposes a 1 cent tax on all drinks, carbonated and non-carbonated, to be paid by the beverage producers and distributors;
- With the revenue generated from the 1 cent tax, H646 creates the “Municipal Recycling Enhancement Fund” during a period of transition to a more comprehensive recycling program for the state;
- Then on June 30, 2019, H646 sunsets the one cent tax on recyclables altogether.
For many people who may not be very committed to recycling, H646 could look like a gift horse although maybe one of Trojan pedigree. (1) above makes shopping more convenient; (2) – (3) raise an estimated $135 million dollar fund for modernizing town and municipality recycling, all on the beverage producers and distributors’ dime; and (4) ensures that the free ride lasts for three years of the common good.
Let’s consider the question of motivation. Is the problem with the current bottle bill (H2943/S1588) that it has failed in its mission and needs to be repealed? On the contrary, for over three decades the bottle bill has been Massachusetts’ most successful recycling program. Six leading organizations — Mass. Audubon, the Charles River Conservancy, Clear Water Action, the Container Recycling Institute, the Environment League of Massachusetts, Environment Massachusetts, the League of Women Voters/MA, MASSPIRG, and the Sierra Club — have collectively authored a letter praising the bottle bill for its achievements:
Is H646 a better alternative? The Container Recycling Institute (CRI) conducted an in-depth study before submitting an eight page letter to the chairs of the Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy Committee. CRI urged that H646 be killed in Committee. It wasn’t. Here’s a summary of CRI’s assessment of the outcomes of H646 if the bill is enacted:
*The beverage producers and distributors will receive $174 million in net revenue over the first ten years of the program. Over the same period of time, towns and municipalities are estimated to lose $85 million.
*Recycling rates of carbonated beverages can be expected to decline sharply based on 2010 data which showed that 80% of carbonated beverages sold in Massachusetts had been recycled, 71% having deposit labels. Remove the labels and the refunds, and the incentive to recycle could be undermined dramatically.
*The loss of an estimated 65,000 tons of otherwise recyclable trash will translate into sizable greenhouse gas emissions because beverage producers and distributors will have to replace the unrecovered bottles with newly manufactured ones.
*Massachusetts will once again become a dumping ground for unsightly recyclable waste, and communities will incur new costs of cleanup.
*As the world moves toward recycling, Massachusetts will be going backwards, damaging its national and international reputation.
H646 has so much to be said against it that one wonders why the bill made it so far. Perhaps the right question needs to be asked. Since the state will gain in the short run but lose so much in the long run, who would be the big winners if H646 were enacted? Here’s a credible hypothesis. Beverage manufacturers and distributors would have a lot to gain if the bottle bill were repealed. They would recover a sizable amount of the money or reparations they had been forced to pay over a long period of time under the bottle bill. In addition, after three years under H646, they would be free and clear of all responsibility for the clutter and damage their products inflict on the environment and be able to look ahead to a sizeable and ongoing windfall. Once relieved of governmental regulations, they can be expected to aggressively resist ever again being forced to wear their harness of good citizenship.
If passed, H646 will become a burden on Massachusetts and its citizens, who ultimately will have to bear the cost of recycling. The most significant legacy of enacting H646 will be its transfer of the responsibility and cost for recycling bottles from the beverage manufacturers and distributors to the taxpayers of the state. H646 needs to be defeated. Climate Action Now urges you to stand up for recycling in the Bay State and for keeping the burden of associated bottle costs squarely on the shoulders of the responsible parties. Please contact your legislators now. Tell them you oppose H646. In addition, if you are a constituent of a representative serving on the House Ways and Means Committee where H646 is currently under review, especially contact him or her.