Creem proposal would ban bottled water

Ban would take effect if water bottles aren’t subject to redemption law


Sen. Cynthia Creem thinks she has a solution to the long-stalled effort on Beacon Hill to expand the state’s bottle redemption law to include water: just ban water bottles altogether.

Frustrated by the reluctance of House and Senate leadership to entertain an expansion to the state’s bottle redemption law, Creem, a Newton Democrat, filed an amendment to the Senate budget slated for debate Wednesday that would ban outright the sale of water bottles in Massachusetts within a year.

Under the senator’s amendment, the sale of non-carbonated waters, including flavored water, vitamin water and other water beverages in bottles less than 24 ounces, would be prohibited after July 1, 2013 unless the bottles are subject to the state’s bottle redemption laws.

“If bottled water existed 30 years ago when the bottle bill was passed, it would have been included, so I can’t understand, there’s no sort of reasoning why it’s not,” Creem told the News Service.

Environmental and recycling advocates have been pushing for years to update the so-called bottle bill that allows consumers to redeem used bottles and cans for a 5 cent refund, but have been stymied in the Legislature. Despite Gov. Deval Patrick’s support for expanding the bottle bill to include water, coffee and sports drinks, House Speaker Robert DeLeo has labeled the proposal a tax, and House leaders have not brought an expansion bill up for debate.

Advocates for the expansion late last year abandoned their push to take the plan to the voters in 2012, indicating that they planned to refocus their efforts on passing a bill through the Legislature where they claimed to have garnered majority support. The bill, however, remains held in committee with little evident momentum behind it.

“It’s not relevant whether its 2013 or 2014. I’m saying let’s take a year or two years and give people a chance to do something, but if they don’t I don’t think we should have bottled water,” said Creem, explaining that her amendment is trying to be respectful to those critics who say now is not the time to consider an expansion.

Retailers and food stores opposed to the bottle bill expansion have argued that adding a 5-cent deposit on more bottles would add burdensome costs that would likely be passed on to consumers. Opponents say Massachusetts should focus on building the capacity of cities and towns to provide curbside pick-up and making it more convenient to recycle at work or while on the road.

The Massachusetts Food Association, the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, Poland Spring Bottling Company, Kappy’s Liquors, Tedeschi Food Shops, the Massachusetts Package Stores Association, the New England Convenience Store Association, and some local union chapters for drivers, plant workers and machinists last year formed a coalition called “Real Recycling for Massachusetts” to lobby against the bottle bill expansion.

Creem said one-third of bottles sold in Massachusetts each year are exempt from the bottle bill because of the definitions that do not include bottled water. Like many proponents, Creem called the bottle bill a popular law that has been successful at encouraging recycling. She said 80 percent of bottles covered by the current law are recycled, compared with 22 percent of non-deposit bottles.

“I never considered the bottle bill a tax because you get your money back if you return your bottle, but that’s how I feel,” Creem said.

Asked whether she thought the amendment had a chance of being adopted or if she was simply trying to make a point, Creem said, “I don’t know. In either event, we need to make that point and have people thinking about it.”

During its budget debate in late April, the House considered an amendment to expand the bottle law to include water, sports drinks and juice containers, but cast the matter aside when House leaders crafted a “consolidated amendment” to the budget on energy and environment issues. Rep. Thomas Stanley opted against debating his amendment or seeking a roll call vote on it.

Meet the Author

Matt Murphy

State House News Service
Creem said that if she proposed a bottle bill expansion in the budget she believed it could be ruled out of order because it deals with money issues which have to originate in the House, so she developed the idea of the ban.

“It’s not good for the environment. If you look along the Charles River, you’ll see bottles strewn around. It should have been included by now. At some point we have to ban it. Maybe people just don’t want bottled water, that’s why,” Creem said.