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State panel OKs expansion of nickel deposit to bottled water

By David Abel
Globe Staff / July 15, 2010

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For the first time since the landmark bottle law took effect three decades ago, a panel of state lawmakers yesterday approved a bill that would expand the nickel deposit required on sales of carbonated soda, beer, and malt beverages to include bottled water and sports drinks, which account for a growing number of beverages sold in the state.

Members of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy approved an agreement that would also raise the amount that redemption centers could collect from bottlers, from 2.25 cents to 3 cents. The bill excludes fruit juice and some 2-liter bottle drinks.

“I think this is a big step in the right direction,’’ said Senator Michael Morrissey, a Quincy Democrat who serves as cochairman of the committee.

Proponents of expanding the bottle law, which passed in 1981, argue it is needed to respond to the dramatic rise in the number of plastic containers. The Container Recycling Institute, a California group that monitors the recycling of bottles, estimated that Americans doubled the amount of bottled water they drank between 2002 and 2007, when more than 28 billion plastic bottles ended up in incinerators, landfills, or as litter.

The Patrick administration, which supports the bottle bill, has estimated the state would raise about $58 million by allowing the redemption of an additional 1.5 billion containers a year, or about $20 million more than the state earns from the current law, and that municipalities would save as much as $7 million in disposal costs.

Opponents of the bottle law say expanding it amounts to a tax that raises the cost of beverages and will continue to fight the bill.

“We will continue to oppose ‘feel good’ legislation that costs too much and does too little,’’ said Chris Flynn, president of the Massachusetts Food Association, which is against expanding the bottle law. “It is an outdated, costly, and inefficient system that misses the opportunity to promote real recycling.’’

In Boston, Mayor Thomas M. Menino said in a statement: “For years, I have proposed legislation to close the loophole in the Bottle Bill to promote recycling efforts and help keep our neighborhoods clean. . . . This legislation gives us a real opportunity to prevent litter while saving important municipal resources spent on trash collection.’’

Advocates said they hope the bill will be passed.

“We think this has tremendous momentum,’’ said Janet Domenitz, executive director of Masspirg, a statewide public interest advocacy organization.

The bill is now in the Senate. If approved, it goes to the House.

David Abel can be reached at dabel@globe.com.

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