Thursday, February 18, 2010

Bottle Bill Crucial for our Future

Bottle Bill Crucial for our Future
Guest commentary
By Dr. Michael F. Epstein
Wicked Local Cambridge
Posted Feb 16, 2010 @ 10:31 AM
Last update Feb 16, 2010 @ 11:52 AM
Cambridge —

I spend an hour or two every day walking or running through the streets of Cambridge. From our home in West Cambridge, I run along Memorial Drive as far east as the Museum of Science and as far west as the Watertown line. I walk into Harvard Square, Porter Square, Central or Kendall Square for shopping, lunch dates, or just to enjoy the urban bustle and “fine weather.”

I love our city’s diversity whether in architecture, ethnic restaurants, bookshops or people in our community, and I marvel at the beauty of the parklands along the Charles River. And on each of these walks and runs, I pick up the discarded bottles and cans that mar this urban experience and are a jarring note in an otherwise pleasing and stimulating setting. With a typical run yielding two to five cans/bottles, and the occasional walk with a plastic bag yielding up to 30 or so, I’ve managed to pick up more than 1,500 bottles in the last three years of walking around Cambridge. This is a rather distressing commentary on our littering society.

The commonwealth passed a bottle bill in 1981 and implemented it in 1983, and by any measure, it has been a huge success. The “litter load” on our streets declined, the entry of potentially recyclable materials into our wastestream decreased, and the commonwealth netted millions of dollars to be used for local aid for schools, fire and police departments, park maintenance, etc. The specter of consumers fleeing convenience and package stores in Massachusetts to buy soft drinks and beer in New Hampshire never occurred, and the positive impact on the environment has been quite significant.

It is now time to extend and expand that original bill to cover additional containers, most importantly, the huge growth in bottled water, juice and energy drinks that could not have been foreseen 20 years ago. Americans discard more than 75 billion disposable beverage containers each year, and only 20 percent of those are recycled. More than one-third of the bottles and cans I’ve picked up over the last three years had held bottled water, and the irony is that most of the bottled water that consumers pay mightily for is no different from the tap water that costs less than a penny/gallon. Moreover, the cost to the environment of bottled water is significant at both the manufacturing end and the disposing end of the process. The totaled estimated energy needed to make, transport and dispose of one bottle of water is equivalent to filling that same bottle one-quarter full of oil and then throwing it away. Americans are beginning to understand the waste involved in this “created demand” for bottled water and have begun to slow the annual increase in consumption of this product. It is now time to further motivate people to change this behavior while also cleaning up our city.

House Bill 3515, introduced by Alice Wolf, state representative from Cambridge, and Senate Bill 1480, introduced by Cynthia Creem, state senator from Newton, would extend the current 5-cent deposit on containers to water, juice and energy drinks. Conservative estimates indicate that the expanded deposit law would reduce litter from those sources by 70 percent while also generating $18 million-$20 million/year for the commonwealth at a time of financial difficulty for our cities and towns. This bill makes good sense for the environment, for our financial stability, and for the quality of life in our commonwealth.

The bill is currently languishing in the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy where it is beset by “end-of-the-world” scenarios put forward by the bottling industry and store owners near the New Hampshire border. It is time for the commonwealth’s citizens to indicate to their representatives that this is a good bill that deserves to be made law for the good of all the citizens. We in Cambridge can look forward to cleaner streets and riverbanks, as well as more long-term benefits to our environment with passage of this bill.

You can help. Contact your state representative (Alice Wolf, Marty Walz, Timothy Toomey, Jonathan Hecht or Byron Rushing) to thank them for supporting the bill and contact the chairs of the Joint Committee, Rep. Barry Finegold of Andover and Sen. Michael Morrissey of Quincy, to urge that they move the bill out of committee.

Dr. Michael F. Epstein is vice chairman of the Charles River Conservancy board of directors.

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