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BOSTON -- Reaching into the cold vault for something to drink at a convenience store could get a little more expensive in Massachusetts.
According to the Associated Press, state lawmakers are considering changes to the state's bottle bill that would expand deposit fees to non-carbonated beverages. The unclaimed deposits would then be used to boost local recycling programs. Legislators will take up the issue tomorrow, when more than a dozen bills proposing changes to the 30-year-old container deposit system are slated to be heard.
Under the current system, a five-cent deposit is placed on bottles or cans of soft drinks, mineral water, beer and other malt beverages. In turn, consumers can redeem the deposit by returning the bottles or cans to a redemption center for recycling. Proponents of expanding the deposit fees hope the change will increase recycling efforts across the state.
"By expanding the nickel deposit to more types of beverage containers, we can increase recycling, protect industry jobs and reduce waste disposal costs for local communities," said Sen. Cynthia S. Creem, a Newton Democrat and sponsor of the Senate version of the bill.
Almost 40 percent of drink containers do not have a deposit, according to Creem, who said an increased incentive to recycle more containers would reduce litter and the cost of disposing of trash for cities and towns.
Opponents argue, however, that the change will come at a price for consumers and businesses. "This is a serious tax on consumers at the wrong time," said Christopher Flynn, who is president of the Massachusetts Food Association, which represents retailers, manufacturers and wholesalers in the supermarket and grocery industry, and also a member of the newly formed coalition, Real Recycling for Massachusetts. The group, made up of small businesses, unions, trade associations and citizens, debuted today in opposition of what it says is "a costly and inefficient proposal."
Expanding the bottle bill would cost retailers, grocers and beverage companies millions of dollars per year in operating costs, causing the cost of beverage containers to increase, ultimately impacting the most those who can least afford it -- low and middle income families and those living on fixed incomes, according to the coalition. Flynn said expanding redemption centers and converting machines to accept different bottles could also cost the state's retailers millions of dollars, and smaller businesses may not be able to expand to handle the increased volume, the AP reported.
Redemption centers would receive a one-cent increase in their handling fees under the proposal. The centers now receive 2.25 cents per container, and have not seen an increase since 1991. The bill proposes a 3.25-cent fee, which would be reassessed periodically.
On the other end of the spectrum, another proposed bill on tomorrow’s hearing schedule would eliminate deposits on all containers in the state, a complete reversal.
As Massachusetts looks at increasing its deposits, one Maryland city is reviewing a bill that would end its bottle tax. As WBALTV.com reported, a bill to end Baltimore's bottle tax reached the City Council on Monday night. The existing tax, which has been in place for a year, costs consumers an additional 2 cents when buying most bottled drinks. The tax is set to be in place until at least 2013; however, the new bill calls for it to end next summer.
Local retailers claim the two-cent tax has hit their profits by 12 to 15 percent. In addition, Councilwoman Belinda Conaway, who co-sponsored the bill, said 70 jobs were lost this year at the Pepsi bottling plant in north Baltimore.
However, according WBALTV.com, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the levy has helped the city's coffers. "We went from a $121-million budget gap to a $65-million budget gap," she explained. "We're climbing our way out of a recession, and the revenue from the bottle tax helped us."