Advocates for a 5-cent deposit on bottled water, sports drinks and other beverage containers said they believe that after years of effort, their measure finally has enough juice to gain legislative approval.

Advocates for a 5-cent deposit on bottled water, sports drinks and other beverage containers said they believe that after years of effort, their measure finally has enough juice to gain legislative approval.


Consumer and environmental groups said nearly 200 cities and towns have passed resolutions supporting expansion of the state’s bottle bill - which now requires deposits on soda and beer bottles and cans - and some 80 legislators are cosponsors of such legislation. A recent MassINC poll also reported that 77 percent of the public supports wider use of bottle deposits, they said.


“I think there’s big momentum,” said Janet Domenitz, executive director for the Mass. Public Interest Research Group, or MassPIRG.


Opponents of the legislation, including retail groups and beverage manufacturers, maintain that money would be better spent improving curbside recycling programs, which are more prevalent than when the original bottle bill became law in 1983. A broader bottle deposit could burden businesses, they said.


“It’s going to cost a lot of money in order to absorb the additional containers, and it’s really going to put a lot of pressure on retailers,” said Chris Flynn, president of the Massachusetts Food Association, a trade group for the supermarket and grocery industry.


Experiencing déjà vu? Both sides have argued the merits of updating the bottle bill for about 14 years. State lawmakers heard arguments on the latest proposals July 20 in a Committee on Telecommunication, Utilities and Energy hearing at the State House.


There are 13 varied bills pending this year to make changes to the state’s bottle deposit law – including one proposal that would repeal 5-cent deposits altogether – but advocates are lining up behind measures introduced by state Rep. Alice Wolf, D-Cambridge, and Sen. Cynthia Stone Creem, D-Newton.


That legislation would add a 5-cent deposit to “mineral water, flavored and unflavored water, vitamin water, and other water beverages, tea, sports drinks, isotonic drinks” and any other nonalcoholic, noncarbonated bottled beverages. Dairy products and any containers made of paper-based, biodegradable material are exempt.


The bills would also re-establish a Clean Environment Fund for unreturned deposit money to be set aside for recycling and environmental projects, and boost a fee that beverage distributors pay to bottle redemption centers by a penny. Redemption centers currently receive 2-1/4 cents per container.


Supporters argue the bill will improve recycling of beverage containers. A fact sheet from the Sierra Club’s Massachusetts chapter said while roughly 80 percent of soda and other containers covered under the existing bottle deposit law are redeemed or recycled, only an estimated 22 percent of other uncovered bottles are recycled.


Some of those containers – often consumed on the go – become litter or are tossed in the nearest trash can, ending up in landfills, bottle deposit advocates said.


An expanded deposit would help defray the cost of municipal trash handling and recycling, said Ann Dorfman, interim executive director of MassRecycle.


“Right now, the disposal costs and work for this product are borne by the taxpayers,” she said. “Bottles of water, Gatorade, anything people put in the trash or even recycling, is generally paid by the town tax base.”


The Mass. Department of Environmental Protection came out in favor of an expanded bottle bill this month, issuing a report that said bottle return machines have the capacity and ability to accept more containers of different types.


The agency also said municipalities could save a combined $7 million a year in avoided trash costs under expected improvements in recycling.


The Mass. Food Association is instead calling for improved municipal recycling and more recycling containers in public places.


Flynn said adding new containers of different sizes and shapes could complicate the existing bottle return system. He also said retailers would face increased complications dealing with wholesalers to handle returns.


“We hope not,” Flynn said when asked if an expanded bottle deposit will likely pass this year. “Usually wiser heads prevail.”


Flynn questioned the figure that supporters cited for the recycling rate of containers now exempt from deposits, and said they make up a small volume in the waste stream in any case. The timing of an expanded bottle bill is also poor, given the economy, he said.


The DEP report, however, said expanded bottle bills in three neighboring states – Connecticut, Maine and New York – have had no discernible impact on beverage prices, nor added significant costs for retailers.


At MassPIRG, Domenitz said there was strong turnout among bottle deposit supporters at the recent legislative hearing. Nearly 30 legislators showed up in unison to voice support, another sign of growing momentum, she said.


“In my 30 years, I don’t think I’ve ever seen that happen at a hearing,” Domenitz said.


(David Riley can be reached at 508-626-3919 or driley@wickedlocal.com.)