By Colleen Quinn
State House News Service
BOSTON -- Calling it "too late" for a legislative solution, proponents of expanding the state's 5-cent bottle-deposit law to more types of beverage containers said they are taking their decade-long fight to the people, filing a ballot petition with the attorney general Wednesday afternoon.
Referencing unsuccessful attempts to push the proposal through the Legislature, Janet Domenitz, executive director of MassPIRG, said people who favor adding the deposit to sports drinks, water and other juice drinks have been patient for long enough.
"It is time for the citizens' voices to be heard," she said standing in front of the state office tower where the Attorney General's Office was accepting ballot question proposals in light of Wednesday's filing deadline.
Environmentalists say an expanded redemption law will help increase recycling and reduce litter, but opponents argue is it another tax on consumers and will burden retailers who will have to collect additional containers. Since it went into effect in 1983, the 5-cent deposit has only applied to beer and carbonated beverages.
A perennial proposal on Beacon Hill, it won support in the Senate twice -- once this year in the fiscal 2014 budget and last year in an economic development bill. Both times it was dropped from the bills during conference committee talks when lawmakers privately work out differences between House and Senate bills.
In October 2011, advocates for expanding the deposit law abandoned a ballot push. At the time, Domenitz said backers of the ballot measure had been girding for a clash with "well-heeled" opponents of the bottle recycling bill, from "the liquor lobby" to Coca Cola.
"We had reason to believe that they were already amassing dollars to spend against us," Domenitz said at the time. "They're very well-heeled. They're very well-financed."
Domenitz said Wednesday they do not regret the decision.
Opponents of adding the deposit to other drinks say expanding curbside recycling would cut down on litter. A group backed by the food and beverage industry is seeking to scrap the deposit law in favor of a new recycling program.
Chris Flynn, president of the Massachusetts Food Association, said the deposit law is an "antiquated approach" that doesn't work.
"They can't get the bill passed through the Legislature because it is not a good idea when you take a look at it," Flynn said after the ballot initiative was filed.
Flynn said it does not make sense for people to be forced to separate their trash and take some containers back to the food store to recoup the deposit.
Sen. Michael Moore, D-Millbury, filed legislation in January that would phase out the 5-cent deposit on cans and bottles, replacing it with a 1-cent fee paid by distributors and bottlers, which would be used to fund recycling efforts.
Phillip Sego, chair of legislative action at the Sierra Club, said curbside recycling collects only 22 percent of all containers. He argued it is time to update the bottle bill because consumers' tastes have changed, with people drinking more sports drinks and flavored water.
Bottle-bill proponents plan to employ paid signature gatherers, along with volunteers to collect signatures. Domenitz described the ballot drive as an "arduous" process that will take "everything we can get."