Genie in a Bottle? Filling the Budget Gap by Expanding Massachusetts’s Bottle Redemption Law
This newsletter provides information on Massachusetts’ bottle redemption law and discusses the status of a new proposal to expand the law to other beverage containers.
The Massachusetts Senate took the not-so-unusual step of attaching broad policy proposals to their version of the state’s budget and passed a proposal to expand the state’s bottle redemption law. While this is arguably a win for environmental groups across the state, the real winner may be the state’s General Fund. The reason? The state gets to keep the five-cent deposit charged for every bottle thrown into the trash instead of being returned at a redemption center.
Over the past three years alone, the state has collected almost $100 million as a result of consumers failing to seek a refund of the five cents charged on each container of certain beverages. As originally contemplated in Massachusetts, the bottle bill was designed to funnel unredeemed deposits into solid waste disposal and recycling programs. However, during the recession of 2003, the law establishing the Clean Environment Fund was repealed and all unredeemed deposits were thereafter transferred to the state’s General Fund.
The proposed expansion of the bottle redemption law as passed by the Massachusetts Senate on May 22 would add the five-cent deposit to the following beverage containers: non-carbonated soft drinks, including mineral water, flavored water, spring water, fruit drinks (containing less than 10 percent juice), sports drinks, coffee and coffee-based drinks, and all other nonalcoholic carbonated and noncarbonated drinks intended for human consumption. The existing exception for milk, dairy products and alcoholic beverages other than beer and malt beverage is maintained in the new proposal.
The status of this proposed expansion of the bottle redemption law depends on the budget negotiations between the House of Representatives and Senate. More specifically, a budget conference committee of three House members and three Senate members has been established to review the differences between each branch’s version of the budget and it is expected that deliberations will conclude prior to the beginning of the state’s fiscal year on July 1. Because the House version of the budget did not include the expanded bottle redemption law, it will be crucial for proponents and opponents of this proposal to convincingly argue their position to legislative leadership and members of the conference committee. Failure to take seriously the likelihood of the passage of this proposal (perhaps not as part of the budget, but in another legislative proposal) could be damaging for businesses and organizations that view it as another onerous tax on the business community.