Thursday, November 12, 2009

Op-Ed: Let’s clean up the Commonwealth by Rep. James O'Day)

Appeared in the West Boylston Banner on 11/12/09
by Representative James O’Day and James McCaffrey

On Oct. 7, the state legislature reviewed an update to our bottle bill, which would add bottled water, sports drinks, iced tea, juice drinks and other “new age” beverages to our current list of deposit containers.

Our existing bottle bill was passed 27 years ago. It is the most effective program ever devised to prevent litter and increase recycling. Not only has our bottle bill been a huge success, it has become a model for other states, Canadian provinces and nations throughout the world.

Due to the bottle bill, we redeem/recycle an amazing 80 percent of beverage containers. It stops valuable petroleum-based plastics from going to our state’s disappearing landfills. It dramatically cuts litter that burdens our state and municipalities with increasing clean-up costs, saving communities up to $7 million annually. It creates jobs in recycling and textiles, providing the feedstock for recycled materials such as upholstery, carpeting and Polartec-type fleece.

Unfortunately, because of huge changes in consumer tastes, one-third of beverages sold here – resulting in over one billion containers per year –are unintentionally outside the deposit system. The solution is simple: the legislature needs to update the bottle bill to include these containers.

Our bottle bill is a model of producer responsibility: Those who create the waste are those who pay to clean it up. When we redeem a container, we get our nickel back. But when someone chooses to throw theirs in the trash (or out the car window), they forfeit their nickel. These nickels indirectly pay for the huge cleanup and disposal costs that are burdening our municipalities. The bottlers help pay for the costs of recycling by providing a small amount, just 2.25 cents per redeemed container. This fee keeps the redemption system running.

The resulting system, which places the clean-up burden on the bottlers and those who decide to turn their recyclables into litter or trash, works incredibly well. Unfortunately, with the popularity of newer non-deposit beverages, our streets and parks are becoming litter-strewn, our landfills are reaching capacity, and our storm drains are being clogged by non-deposit beverage containers.

Most of the containers that would be added to the bottle bill are PET plastic (No. 1), which is made of 99 percent petroleum. Consumers like PET plastic because it is lightweight, shatter-resistant and re-sealable – just right for people on-the-go. It’s also virtually indestructible. PET will not break down for thousands of years. Fortunately, it’s easily recyclable, and industry is in desperate need of more.

Recycling more of these containers will help divert huge quantities of materials from our disappearing landfills – while reducing our carbon emissions. Our existing bottle bill results in diverting over 100,000 tons of containers every year from our landfills. Meanwhile beverages not covered have resulted in 60,000 tons of containers being sent to landfills annually. Adding these new containers would save over 400,000 barrels of oil every year. This huge savings would further allow the state to meet its carbon reduction goals. It also complements curbside recycling by targeting on-the-go containers.

Throughout the region, nearly every state has updated their bottle bills, including Connecticut, Maine and New York. Over 100 Massachusetts cities and towns – including Worcester and West Boylston – have passed resolutions in favor of updating the bottle bill, and it also enjoys strong support in the state legislature. Because it’s good for the state, for our cities and towns, and for you, Representative O’Day is a co-sponsor of this important legislation.

Representative O’Day welcomes your feedback on the bottle bill or any other issues. He can be reached at (617) 722-2220, or, through e-mail, at James.O’

State Rep. James O’Day represents the 14th Worcester District, which includes West Boylston and parts of Worcester. His office is in Room 254 of the Statehouse, Boston, MA, 02133. James McCaffrey is the Director of the Massachusetts Sierra Club.

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