Monday, May 10, 2010

Op-Ed: What’s the difference between a deposit and a tax?

Now that you've just paid your taxes, raise your hand if you know the difference between a tax and a deposit.

If you overpaid, or had a really bad year, you may be getting a refund on the taxes you had withheld. But the government usually keeps most of it, and we have no recourse. It’s our mandatory contribution to the Commonwealth and the country.

On the other hand, if you bought a case of beer, nobody can stop you from getting back the nickel deposit you paid on each container, if only you bring it back from whence it came. If you drink beer regularly, it’s a pretty good bet that you’ll be going back there anyway.

The government doesn’t require you to either buy the beer or return the containers. You have freedom of choice on both counts. You may also choose to donate the containers to a good cause, such as the Boy Scouts, or the school music program. You can even put them in the trash or drop them on the ground. With a nickel value, you can go to sleep that night knowing that someone else might pick them up and redeem them.

The Bottle Bill is the single most successful recycling program in the state. About 80% of containers covered by the deposit are redeemed or recycled. On the other hand, nearly 80%of containers without a refundable deposit on them are wasted in the trash, or littered.

Opponents of updating the 27-year-old Bottle Bill (to add water, sports drinks, ice tea and juices), including Coke, Pepsi and other big special interests don’t have good arguments to block this, so they try to confuse the issue by equating the refundable deposit on their beverage containers with a tax. They say that waste should go in your home recycling bin. But the opponents seem to forget that Massachusetts citizens have been putting down deposits on bottles for 27 years, and they understand fully the difference between a tax and a deposit.

The truth is most of the bottlers’ products are consumed away from home, in public spaces where recycling containers are hard to find and manage. Your local property taxes pay for your municipality to clean up and dispose of downtown, ball field, beach, and school trash. You have very little control over this cost.

You are already paying a tax to manage the beverage containers that don’t have refundable deposits. It’s time to let our legislators know that we understand the difference between a tax and a refundable deposit.

Tax: [tæks]
1. n. An amount of money that you have to pay to the government so that it can pay for public services.

Deposit: [di-poz'-it]
1. n. A sum of money which you pay when you start renting something. The money is returned to you if you do not damage it.

We truly hope that this has helped clarify any misconceptions that are out there, and that the legislature will move quickly to pass the Updated Bottle Bill (H3515/S1480), which has been pending for more than several legislative sessions and is widely supported by the public of Massachusetts.

Phillip Sego, Massachusetts Sierra Club
Claire Sullivan, MassRecycle, South Shore Recycling Coop

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