Back in the ’90s when the bottle bill expansion was being considered, I was all for it. However, my graying hair serves as a reminder this isn’t the ’90s anymore. As a staunch liberal, I find myself unable to support Question 2 on the November Massachusetts ballot. Here’s my reasons why:
1. Dated solution
The bottle bill was designed to create a recycling mechanism when no alternatives existed. Now many of us have single stream recycling or pay as you throw programs in the cities/towns where we live. I’m a Brookline resident. We’ve got single stream and I can’t remember the last time I saw someone redeeming cans or bottles at the supermarket. People just eat the 5 cents on their soda and beer containers because it’s easier to do it in their homes than carry containers back to the market. A big part of being liberal is embracing change.
2. Regressive tax
No way around this one. I can afford not to care about 5-10 cents on a container. It’s petty to charge me that money when I’m recycling anyway, but the money is small enough that I don’t feel a pinch. However, those at the bottom of the economic scale are going feel this in their pocketbook. I can rationalize the charge for soda and beer containers as being a bit of a sin tax, but for water or juice? That’s regressive any way you cut it.
3. Recycling disincentive
Lower wage earners and immigrant populations recycle the least, even when they live in places with single stream programs. Expanding the bottle bill would give the people who have to care about reclaiming that money one more reason not to use the municipal recycling program they already don’t use enough.
The expanded version actually would make struggling families less likely to make healthy choices in their shopping. It costs more to drink real juice as opposed to sugar water. Even a lot of supposed juices are just sugar water with a splash of juice thrown in and they tend to be the less expensive ones. Anyway, adding cost to the sticker price of healthier choices is going to create fewer people making those healthier choices. That’s bad public policy.
5. Biodegradable containers
This is the one that really baffles me. Yes, we should be recycling beverage containers (including dairy and baby formula, which are excluded from the expansion). However, why aren’t we putting beverages in biodegradable containers? Seriously, any percentage of our plastic containers ending up in landfills or heading out to sea to form a floating garbage mini-continent is a bad percentage. The problem isn’t that we aren’t sufficiently leveraging our bureaucracy, it’s that we need to stop putting beverages in plastic containers. The liberal solution here shouldn’t be to nudge the recycling needle, it should be to meet the crisis head on.
In short, it’s a dated, regressive measure likely with negative unintended consequences and we really should be after much bigger megillahs. To me, it feels like this is an item from some old checklist we really should have updated.