Working group seeks compromise on expanded bottle bill

BOSTON — A small working group assembled by a legislative committee will attempt to hammer out a compromise expanding the bottle deposit law that also mitigates costs for bottlers.

Supporters of adding a 5-cent deposit to sports drinks, water and other beverages not covered by the deposit and redemption law say its expansion will boost recycling, while opponents say the law, which went into effect in 1983, is outdated, a burden on bottlers and retailers and not as effective as increased curbside recycling.

The House and Senate chairmen of the Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, who have differing stances on a bottle bill expansion, each appointed two lawmakers from their branch to the working group. Rep. John Keenan, the House chairman, said he aimed to strike a balance of opinion on the issue with his appointments.

A coalition of environmental groups and MassPIRG has lobbied for years to expand the bottle bill, while the opposition, consisting chiefly of bottlers and retailers, is organized as Real Recycling for Massachusetts.

Environmentalists led by former Boston Mayor Tom Menino, are meanwhile pushing forward with a ballot referendum (H 3848), which is currently in committee, but would be a costly and public winner-take-all scrap if its backers complete the final steps to put it on the November ballot.

Rep. John Binienda, a Worcester Democrat, and Sen. Michael Moore, a Millbury Democrat, have proposed an alternative (S 379 /H 2513) supported by Real Recycling and rejected by the pro-bottle bill expansion groups to affix a 1-cent recycling surcharge on all beverage containers in Massachusetts to fund recycling efforts.

Lawmakers have previously voted against the deposit expansion bill, which has been estimated to generate as much as $20 million in revenue, because Speaker Robert DeLeo and others viewed it as a tax. Gov. Deval Patrick has consistently included the legislation in his budget proposal.

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