Speliotis favors expanding bottle bill in Massachusetts
By Renee Seymour Send an e-mail to the author.

Topsfield State Rep. Ted Speliotis, D-Danvers, is co-sponsoring a bill to update the Massachusetts Bottle Bill, to include containers from so-called ‘new age’ beverages, such as iced tea, fruit juice and bottled water.

As a sponsor of the original legislation and now vice chairman of the Energy Committee, Speliotis has seen that it has worked, which is the reason he is involved with the campaign to update the 20-year-old bill.

“We have an obligation to keep our streets clean,” said Speliotis. “It’s a very small price we ask people to pay - a small inconvenience, actually - to help out in a great way. You have to update legislation all of the time otherwise you become outdated.”

The Massachusetts Bottle Bill, created in 1983 to encourage recycling and control litter, has led to waste reduction more than any other program in the state, according to the Massachusetts Sierra Club.

However, Speliotis said the current bottle bill is in need of an update, because so many more commonly used beverage containers are not included on the bill. Increasing numbers of beverage containers are being thrown into landfills because they weren’t that common when the bill was created. According to a Massachusetts Sierra Club press release, not only are people drinking more ‘new age’ beverages, but they are drinking them away from home.

Currently, recycling that result from the bottle bill represents 44 percent of all recycled trash, said Speliotis. However, an estimated 90,000 tons of beverage containers are now thrown out as garbage rather than being recycled through the Massachusetts deposit system, according to the Massachusetts Sierra Club.

Both Boxford Rep. Barbara L’Italien, D-Andover, and Middleton Rep. Brad Hill, R-Ipswich, though, have issues with the proposed legislation.

“The intent of the bill I certainly agree with,” said Hill. “But there are some unfunded mandates that need to be worked out within the business community.”

Hill explained that adding more bottles to the current bottle bill will put added strain on small businesses that will have to accept and process more bottles as a result of the legislation.
“I want to ensure that if the bill is passed there is help to small businesses - either tax incentives or grants - because of the increased costs they will face to run this,” said Hill.

Hill’s other concern is that passing this legislation may drive residents of border communities to New Hampshire to avoid paying the added costs, as the increase in cigarette taxation did a few years ago.

“I saw two small businesses have to sell out to bigger businesses because they couldn’t afford the tax increase on cigarettes. That’s not right,” said Hill. “These people run a business for 50 years and because of state laws and regulations they can’t run their business anymore,” Hill explained.

Hill said that although he is a supporter of recycling and thinks the concept of increasing the number of bottles recycled is a great idea, the legislation is a double-edged sword, as he is also an advocate for small businesses.

“We in Massachusetts are one of the highest states in regulatory blocks for our small businesses. We don’t have a very business-friendly climate in the commonwealth,” he said.

For Hill to support this legislation, he said, it would have to include support in the form of grants and/or tax incentives in order to prevent small businesses from suffering.

“Causing unfunded mandates will send a message to small businesses that ‘we don’t want you here,’” said Hill.

Other options, perhaps?

Boxford Rep. Barbara L’Italien takes issue with another aspect of the legislation, which is the idea of placing a deposit on water.

“I get very concerned when we talk about placing a deposit on water, because there are people who live in communities with poor water who feel they need to purchase water for their families, and I have a problem placing a fee on basic staples,” she said.

L’Italien would rather see cities and towns make it easier and more accessible for their citizens to recycle.

“I think you need to leave each city and town with the option to figure out what’s best for them,” she said. L’Italien suggested adding drop-off centers in each town, as well as weekly curbside pickup, as better ways to increase recycling across the state.

One aspect of the new bill that L’Italien did favor was increasing the handling fee for redemption centers in order to create more places willing to accept recycled goods.

One step is better than none.

Speliotis admits his colleague’s arguments on the recycling issue are valid, but feels updating the bottle bill is the most likely way to increase the amount of goods recycled across the state.

With regard to the idea of establishing better recycling programs within cities and towns as opposed to updating the bottle bill, Speliotis said, “Why I support the bill, and oppose that theory, is that I have not seen enough public support yet to get to that point.”

Speliotis explained that he is not opposed to putting in a so-called “sunset provision”- an expiration date of sorts - which would mean that the bill would be thrown out if, for example, the state reached a point where 75 percent of trash was being recycled.

“But absent of the bottle bill, we would have very little recycling because people don’t recycle,” said Speliotis.

The legislature will have a hearing on the proposed updated bottle bill sometime between now and June, said Speliotis.

Though a similar update bill was proposed and died last year, Speliotis explained the bill has new support in the house, in part due to the departure of House Speaker Tom Finneran, who had opposed the bill. Speliotis hopes that the new Speaker of the House Salvatore DiMasi will be supportive of the legislation.

“The key thing is that we have a new speaker; we have new legislative leadership and they say we’re going to have an open debate on this,” said Speliotis.

“I can’t predict whether there isn’t support or is support since it’s been a suppressed issue over the years,” he said.

This article, which appeared in the Tri-Town Transcript, is reprinted courtesy of Community Newspaper Company, a division of Herald Media Inc.

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