Fenway Park filled to the brim with plastic bottles. That dramatic image conveys the volume of bottle litter we throw away in Massachusetts each year. Most of it gets deposited in landfills. Some litter lingers in our gutters, along the roads, across the beaches and on the sidewalks. It’s pretty gross. It is irresponsible too.
Environmental organizations and well over half of the Massachusetts citizenry are disgusted with the way the legislature has ignored this problem.
So they have managed to get Question 2 on the ballot in the general election on November 4. “Expanding the Beverage Container Deposit Law,” would add water, juice, tea and sports drink bottles to the containers on which people pay a five-cent deposit that they get back when they redeem the bottle. You should vote yes on this matter.
Why? Because too many bottles are stuffing our landfills. Massachusetts’s original bottle bill, which we’ve had since 1983, demonstrates the effectiveness and efficiency of redeemable bottles, said Ken Pruitt, the managing director at the Environmental League of Massachusetts, one of many Massachusetts organizations supporting the expanded bottle bill.
The numbers don’t lie. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection reports that 80 percent of redeemable bottles, such as soda cans, now get recycled. Only 23 percent of the non-redeemable bottles go into recycling.
You can imagine why. When on-the-go people carry portable bottles or cans, they might turn in the redeemable ones for the five cents. But the responsible ones might instead toss them into a trash bin. The irresponsible ones toss them anywhere.
In either case, if the bottle or can is redeemable, that container is often redeemed. Someone will come along, scoop up the empty container and take it to a shop to collect five cents. Some people make that activity a part-time job. If more on-the-go bottles were redeemable, more would be redeemed and recycled, never to see a landfill.
The bottle bill has also reduced litter. You can see the difference along Massachusetts highways, which have less litter than do New Hampshire highways, where no bottle bill creates an incentive to recycle.
Why not include wine bottles? They are already dependably recycled on the curb by many households, said Pruitt. So are containers for other beverages consumed in the home.
That’s because Massachusetts cities and towns have gotten better with recycling. Almost 50 percent of the state’s municipalities have curbside recycling. (In July Boston increased the number of recycling pick-up days in the week from one to two in some of the downtown neighborhoods. That should make a difference in the amount Bostonians recycle.)
Between 30 and 40 percent of the state’s cities and towns have “transfer stations” (formerly the town dump) to which residents are strongly encouraged to take their recyclables separately from their trash. And a good number of residents do so.
Some downtown residents may be skeptical. They put up with the trash pickers strewing trash about as they go through bags trying to find redeemable bottles. Will more redeemable bottles just make some neighborhoods dirtier?
Those neighborhoods, primarily the North End, Beacon Hill and parts of Charlestown, would probably not suffer any more than they do now. Savvy residents either redeem the bottles and cans themselves, or they put out any returnable bottles in a separate bag, making it easy for the trash pickers to collect them without tearing open the other bags.
Our family tackles the problem by not having many redeemable bottles, since we don’t buy water in bottles and we don’t like soft drinks. The trash pickers have given up on us. We also put out our tiny trash bag and our large recycle bag about 7:30 a.m. after most of the trash pickers have scoured our street.
The opposition, made up of mostly of big corporations outside the state, is spending big money to defeat this bill. But it’s hard to fathom why any sane person would think this bill is bad.
It is cheap for consumers—come on, five cents—and a lot cheaper than hauling all that mess to a landfill, which we eventually pay for. The opponents will say it hurts small business, which is plain silly. It’s an increase in inconvenience for the stores that have to redeem the bottles, but it is small and by now, stores are familiar with how to manage the flow. The benefits to the environment are many.
Since our lily-livered legislators and the bullies at corporate America won’t expand the kinds of bottles that can be redeemed, we’ll have to do it ourselves.
Don’t forget to vote on November 4, and don’t forget to vote yes to expand the bottle bill.
Downtown View is a regular column by Karen Cord Taylor who founded The Beacon Hill Times weekly newspaper in 1995 and served as its editor and publisher until late 2007. She also founded and served as editor and publisher of the Charlestown Patriot-Bridge and The Back Bay Sun weeklies. Her column appears in those newspapers as well as the Regional Review, which serves Boston’s North End. These weeklies are now owned by the Independent Newspaper Group. She is the author of “Blue Laws, Brahmins and Breakdown Lanes: An Alphabetic Guide to Boston and Bostonians” and the co-author of “The Lady Architects,” a book about three women who practiced architecture in New England and elsewhere in the early 20th century. She lives in downtown Boston and blogs at BostonColumn.com.