State representatives and experts on environmental issues joined together last Thursday to inform residents of the proposed updates to the state’s bottle bill. Phil Sego, of the Mass. Sierra Club, Representative Jon Hecht of Watertown, Representative Josh Cutler, Sean Sylver of the Mass. Department of Environmental Protection and Claire Sullivan of the South Shore Recycling Cooperative, presented on the bottle bill at the Senior Center, highlighting the importance of citizen support. 

The discussion began with a presentation from Sego, who works on issues of solid waste and pollution with the Sierra Club. Sego described the process of bottle distribution and recycling. When a bottled beverage is purchased, there is a nickel deposit on the bottle, which acts as an incentive for the consumer to recycle the bottle and redeem the five cents. When the bottles are not recycled, they most often end up in parks and streets and the deposit goes back to the bottlers and on to the state as rev­ enue. 

“The bill has been in place for 30 years and, while it is successful, there is a problem,” Sego said. “When they wrote the bill, it only covered carbonated beverages. These days, bottled beverages such as water and Gatorade make up 40 percent of the market and are not covered under the current bill.” 

Sego said the bottles are made of PET plastic, which is 100 percent petroleum and can be easily recycled into polartec fleece, carpets and upholstery. Of the containers currently covered under the bill, 80 percent are recycled: 70 percent are redeemed and 10 percent through recycling programs. Of the containers not currently covered by the bill, Sego said 78 percent wind up as litter or trash. Only 22 percent of those bottles are recycled.Every year in Massachusetts, residents consume 3.3 billion bottles, with 1.1 billion discarded instead of being recycled, Sego said. 

“This is a staggering number,” Sego said. “If you crush and flatten those 1.1 billion bottles and placed them in Fenway Park, it would over­flow the park.” Rep. Hecht, the primary sponsor of the bill, walked attendees through the legislative process of the bill, which has 95 sponsors.

At the start of each legislative session, all bills are filed, adding up to nearly 5,000 bills per session. Hecht said the updated bill has wide support throughout the Commonwealth and in both parties. “All of the public opinion surveys show the bill is supported by 77 percent of the public,” Hecht said. “It’s a very sensible, proven idea that has worked for the last 30 years and that is why it is so widely supported.”

Hecht said the major push for the update is to keep up with the changes that have occurred in the bottled beverage marketplace as well as inflation rates. Another big push for the bill includes changes the current service fee from 2.25 cents per container to 3.5 cents per container in order to keep the system moving forward and to keep jobs in place.

Looking forward, Hecht said the next step in their efforts to pass the bill include having a successful public hearing for the bill, having the committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy file a report to the legislation and see the bill come to the floor for a vote.

Sylver said the DEP recognizes “times have changed” and understands that modifications need to be made to the bill.

“Anytime you have a program that results in having 80 percent of the covered materials recycled, that is a runaway success,” Sylver said.

As the discussion continued, the one question that kept popping up was how to get the “significant intensity of support” the sponsors need to help get the bill passed.

“You already have the support of Representative Cutler in Duxbury, so what we would ask you to do is talk to friends in other parts of the state and ask them to send in letters to their representatives in support of the bill,” Hecht said. “You can also send in letters to us; its always helpful to have a stack of letters to be able to say ‘this is what my constituents want to happen so I have to fight for this.’” Hecht said it could be up to two or three months before the bill makes it to the floor for a vote.