The History of the Mass Bottle Bill
In the late 1970s, in response to the bottling industry’s abandonment of refillable containers and the resulting increases in litter, groups began to advocate for container deposits. Before then, most beverages were sold in refillable bottles that carried a deposit to encourage people to return them.
Massachusetts passed the bottle bill in 1981. Like bottle bills in other states, our law required each beverage container to carry a 5-cent deposit. This deposit can be recovered when the consumer returns the container to the dealer or to a redemption center
Gov. Ed King, reportedly under significant pressure from Coca-Cola, vetoed the legislation. Coca-Cola had a bottling plant in Lynn, the Governor’s hometown.
MASSPIRG and a coalition including League of Women Voters, Audubon, Sierra Club, Environmental Lobby of MA worked to still enlist more legislative support, and overrode his veto with a 2/3 majority.
Dissatisfied with the legislature’s decision, in early 1982, industry opponents collected signatures to place a repeal on the November 1982 ballot. Their effort was defeated by a landslide. People voted to support the Bottle Bill despite the fact that opponents spent millions, and the bottle bill hadn’t taken effect yet.
The Bottle Bill became law and went into effect on Jan 1, 1983.
In the original statute, all unclaimed deposits remained with the bottlers, resulting in a windfall profit. The State Legislature corrected this oversight and redirected the forfeited nickels to go to a new effort: the state-run Clean Environment Fund. The revenue collected was used to increase recycling and anti-litter education.
Soon after the amendment passed, several Massachusetts bottlers and distributors filed suit against the state, claiming that the amendment was unconstitutional. In 1993, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled in favor of the state, against the bottlers.
In 2003, Gov. Mitt Romney led an effort, which prevailed, to take these forfeited nickels from this dedicated fund, and add this revenue to the state’s General Fund Many such dedicated funds were dismantled in the early 1990’s.
The Bottle Bill Today
With the increasing popularity of non-carbonated beverages like water, Gatorade, and fruit juices, the bottle bill now only covers about 2/3 of all beverages. An update, which would add these beverages and make other important updates, has been pending in the state legislature for 14 years – without being brought to the floor for a vote. Powerful interests, like the beverage lobby, have successfully scuttled all efforts to allow legislators to vote on this.
Image file from Wikipedia, and is in the public domain in the United States.