Image: Recycled plastic bottles
Jessica Hill  /  AP file
Yvonne Davis, an employee at DJ's Redemption Center in Waterbury, Conn., sorts through recycled bottles.
updated 2/6/2009 6:17:24 PM ET 2009-02-06T23:17:24

Initially passed decades ago by states looking to promote recycling and help fight pollution, bottle bills are now becoming popular proposals for states looking for any extra infusion of cash.

Massachusetts is one of the latest to suggest expanding its nickel deposit law from carbonated beverages to include bottled water, juice and sports drinks. Gov. Deval Patrick claims the state could collect an extra $58 million for the 2010 budget by collecting the unclaimed deposits.

Consumers in Massachusetts now pay an extra nickel for each bottle of beer or soda but get the nickel back when they return bottles to stores or redemption centers. If consumers do not redeem the bottles, the state receives the nickel.

Connecticut, New York, Iowa and Michigan are also reintroducing measures this session to expand their existing deposit laws — hoping to join Maine, California, Oregon and Hawaii in passing broader bottle bills.

The proposals have drawn praise from recycling groups as a "win-win" situation but cynicism from retailers, who call the moves political money grabs.

Many previous efforts to expand bottle deposit laws have been stymied by lobbying from retailers or lawmakers who say it's an extra tax on consumers.

"They're relying on people not returning containers so the unredeemed nickels go to the state. That's very poor public policy," said Chris Flynn, president of the Massachusetts Food Association, which has long opposed the bottle law. "What's next? If the budget deficit isn't fixed, will we bring all trash back to the store?"

'It's a twofer'
But tough economic times have made environmental advocates optimistic the bills will pass now. Ivan Frishberg, political director at Environment America, said he sees the same effect in the U.S. Senate's inclusion of clean energy initiatives in its economic recovery bill.

"Let's not kid ourselves — the reason it's in there is it's a twofer. It's good for the environment and good for economy," Frishberg said. "If it's not a winner on the second part, we wouldn't have this opportunity."

In Massachusetts, Patrick proposed the expansion as a way to generate extra cash for the general fund, recycling and solid waste management programs and the Massachusetts Water and Sewer Rate Relief Fund.

In New York, the money would go toward municipal recycling and environmental projects. And in Indiana, extra money from creating a bottle deposit law would include providing revenue to the Indiana heritage trust fund.

Supporters say non-carbonated beverages were nonexistent when the bottle law was enacted and adding them would simply update it. But Craig Stevens, spokesman for the American Beverage Association, said this is the wrong time to essentially add another tax to consumers.

"What we're hearing now is that many of these states are trying to close gaps in their budget," he said. "If they're doing this under the guise of increasing recycling, this is the wrong way to increase recycling."

Stevens added he sees the bottle deposit as a tax and if states wanted to increase recycling rates, they would improve curbside recycling.

Bottled-up change
In Massachusetts, the state received $39.2 million from unclaimed deposits in fiscal year 2007, when redemption was 66 percent. The governor contends updating the bottle law to include non-carbonated beverages would raise the 2.2 billion redeemable containers sold annually to 3.7 billion, bringing in the extra $20 million.

Dohee Kim, a consultant who was recently laid off, said she wouldn't appreciate the extra nickel on her purchases as she carried her bottled water and juice out of the Whole Foods market in Boston's Beacon Hill neighborhood.

"I personally wouldn't like to be charged extra because I do recycle right now," Kim said. "I don't see why that would motivate people to recycle more."

Some doubt expanding the bottle bill will help the budget.

"I just don't see it working," said Thomas Whalen, a political historian and social science professor at Boston University. "At this point, given job losses and people cutting back on everything, you don't want to give them an excuse not to consume or purchase something."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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