In the weeks leading up to today’s election, I was surprised to find, while checking out at Price Chopper in Great Barrington yesterday, a pile of 3-1/2” x 8-12” cards with the heading “VOTE X NO ON NOVEMBER 4” with the subheading “STOP FORCED DEPOSITS”.
Since when do grocery stores stack piles of printed political propaganda at the checkout counter?
Since “big beverage” opposes our statewide efforts to recycle more beverage containers and cut down on litter and the amount of recyclables clogging up our dumps, that’s when.
Question 2 asks voters in Massachusetts to decide whether or not to expand the existing “Bottle Bill” to include a 5-cent deposit on non-carbonated drink containers. If you’re thinking, “Wow. That’s probably too radical to consider,” then you’re someone who might Join the Fight! It’s easy. Just let your grocery store tell you how (to vote).
But wait, should my neighborhood grocery store be telling me how to vote? And what, exactly, is the “fight” about?
Nicole Giambusso of O’Neill and Associates, the agency hired by the campaign to provide media relations and lobbying consulting services, did not know whether the strategy of placing printed promotional materials for political campaigns in grocery stores was setting a precedent, or whether there had been any negative customer response. But it certainly has not been commonplace in the Berkshires, and very well may be an example of the new reality of corporations influencing the political process.
According to the No on Question 2 website, the cards were printed and distributed by “a coalition of citizens, businesses, and community organizations” who have “come together to take a stand against Question 2 because it is outdated, expensive, and inconvenient.” And, yes, Price Chopper was listed among the 162 or so members of the coalition, which seems like an impressive number until you note that it includes places like Subway in Worcester, Rowley’s Liquors, and Ralph’s Tavern. Upstanding enterprises though these may be, they’re not exactly beacons for the public good. And No on Question 2 plays fast and loose with the facts in this fight. More on that below.
On the other hand, check out the YES on 2 website here presented by the Coalition to Update the Bottle Bill. In support of Yes on 2 are more than 120 local and state environmental and civic organizations, including Sierra Club, Mass Audubon, Environmental League of Massachusetts, League of Women Voters of Massachusetts, and MASSPIRG, and more than 400 small businesses. Over 200 cities and towns passed resolutions in favor of it. Elected officials from the Berkshires announced their unanimous support for STOP Litter: YES on 2, as have Governor Deval Patrick and over 100 other statewide, municipal and legislative supporters. Plus, Dottie’s Coffee Lounge in Pittsfield and the Twinkle Star Boutique. What more needs to be said?
Unfortunately, the misinformation propaganda campaign is having a negative effect on polling results. We’ll know by tomorrow how it ended up.
If Massachusetts voters expand the Bottle Bill by voting YES on 2:
- The number of water and non-carbonated beverage containers recycled will triple.
- We will save the equivalent of approx. 1 trillion BTUs of energy.
- About 1 trillion BTUs of saved energy could meet the total household energy needs of 11,000 households for one year. That’s equivalent to two-thirds of all households in Pittsfield.
- We will reduce GHG emissions by about 35,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalent. That’s the same as taking about 7,000 cars off the road for a year.
(Sources: Fact 1, MassDEP; Facts 2-4 Container Recycling Institute)
But just to be fair, let’s take the No on Question 2 claims one by one:
“Outdated” and “Old Ideas”
Old ideas suck. That’s basically their argument. And they’re right. Take for example “love”, and “charity”, and “tooth brushing.” Old, old, old. But also, they claim we don’t need an updated Bottle Bill because we’ve got this new-fangled thing called “curbside recycling”. They states that “While forced deposit systems may have been needed 30 years ago, more than 90% of Commonwealth residents now have access to curbside and other community recycling programs. These are the recycling methods most Massachusetts residents prefer. By investing in these programs that are designed to handle all recyclable materials, Massachusetts can be a leader in recycling.”
But the reality is, 90% of Commonwealth residents do not have access to curbside recycling. The lower figure is misinformation, skewed to influence voters. In fact, as reported in The Boston Globe on October 3, 2014, David Cash, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which closely monitors and tracks recycling in cities and towns, says “only 47 percent of Massachusetts cities and towns offer curbside recycling, reaching 64 percent of the population.” In other words, over half the cities and towns in Massachusetts don’t have curbside recycling.
And a large percentage of the population does not use curbside recycling. Why? For two key reasons:
- We mix things up at home. You know the type. They dump everything together – garbage, recyclables, batteries, motor oil, their dead cat or whatever – in a big, black plastic garbage bag, throw it out the door in the general direction of the curb, wipe their hands on their pajamas, and go back inside to watch 19 Kids and Counting on the tube.
Fact: Although recycling is the most common method of plastic waste pollution prevention, less than one percent of all plastics products are recycled in the U.S. Americans throw away 25,000,000 plastic beverage bottles every hour!
That’s 25 million plastic beverage bottles every hour thrown in the trash heap or ending up as litter.
As an American, I am really fed up with us.
But we can take consolation from the fact that:
- We are a nation on the move. We’re moving fast, we’re going places, we’ve got it goin’ on. But all this moving makes us thirsty! We’ve got a beverage in hand, at the ready, at all times. Looks kinda stupid, when you think about it. Like we are risking dehydration walking across the street here in America, land of the thirsty. And in the course of all this movement, how many people do you know heft all their recyclable containers back home to recycle them? How often do you see people happily, cheerfully toss their recyclable bottles and cans right into the trash-trash can? All the time, that’s how often. Even when the recycle bin is right there next to the trash bin, whoops, there it goes. All of these habits – which are on the rise – take even more of a bite out of the argument that curbside recycling is the answer. It ain’t.
Unlike Big Beverage and their lover, Big Grocery, the diverse coalition of people, legislators, and organizations supporting an updated Bottle Bill have nothing to gain from updating the Bottle Bill except helping Massachusetts residents reduce litter and attempting to increase the sustainability of our staggering packaged beverage consumption. (Let’s take a moment to acknowledge that it is absurd to apply the concept of “sustainability” to our societal habit of guzzling liquids, especially water, from billions and billions of plastic, paper, and aluminum packages. It is not sustainable. Thank you.) But this kind of unselfish, public do-gooderness is making Big Beverage mighty nervous. When you consider that Big Beverage has been spending millions of dollars to undermine an updated Bottle Bill for 13 years, well. Think about it. Would Big Beverage dump $7.8 million dollars into misleading TV ads this year alone to slander something so beneficial to public health and to our environment as an updated Bottle Bill just because it is an “old idea” and therefore must suck? No. Selling stuff to people for way more than it’s worth is an old idea, but that still seems to work for them. No, expanding the Bottle Bill will cut into their bottom line. Because, darn, they may have to hire a couple more people to process the extra recyclables. But, wait. That means more jobs! And isn’t “more jobs” a mantra Big Beverage and Big Grocery should be embracing?
The other things that isn’t mentioned by Big Grocery and/or Big Beverage is that every time someone goes to the grocery store with a big ‘ol bag of cans and bottles to exchange for cash, they usually go into the store and buy something. Yup, they do. Subtract that increased revenue from the costs, and the financial burden of the deposit system is magically decreased!
We, apparently, are too stupid/lazy/sugar-addicted/thirsty-for-chemicals to prevent burying ourselves and every living creature unfortunate enough to share a planet with us under a mountain of eye-catching plastic, paper, and aluminum containers filled with creepy, unhealthy liquids and – wait for it! – water. Water, which we could get out of a tap just about anywhere we choose to go. But after years of Big Beverage commodifying our most fundamental human resource – water – most of us don’t remember the last time we drank from a water fountain and we’ve been programmed to believe it’s filthy habit that should be relegated to the third world (if they were lucky enough to have the advanced public water systems and water fountains that we can’t be bothered to use).
The Bottle Bill has been a resounding success since its establishment in 1983, when it was passed to reduce litter and increase the recycling of containers from the most common beverages of the day – beer and soda – by adding a redeemable nickel deposit to each bottle and can sold. For three decades, more than 75 percent of deposit beverage containers have been recycled in Massachusetts. The recycling of water and non-carbonated beverage containers will triple if the Bottle Bill is expanded under Question 2. There’s no doubt that the cash refund motivates people to recycle their beverage containers. So don’t even go there.
The NO on 2 coalition claims that “Question 2 would [cost]…almost $60 million a year to collect and handle the new containers.”
They complain that supermarkets would incur the additional costs and would pass them on to consumers. But don’t forget, grocery stores and other redemption centers receive 3.5 cents per container, which is sufficient to cover the cost of handling. Ken Kimmell, former Commissioner of the DEP, commissioned extensive research into neighboring states with an expanded bottle law (Maine and Connecticut, at the time) and with Massachusetts store owners, Reverse Vending Machine vendors, and state officials, that found that “there already exists sufficient infrastructure and capacity to handle the additional beverage containers” of an expanded Bottle Bill. In most cases, the machines taking recyclables at grocery stores and elsewhere use only a small fraction of their capacity. So the costs to expand these services would be negligible.
According to Phil Sego of the Sierra Club and the Yes on 2 campaign, the grocers used the same “too expensive” scare tactics in 1982 when the original Bottle Bill was passed, and the dire warnings of grocery price increases were not borne out. They made the same threats in other states where expansions have occurred, including CT, NY, ME, and CA, and prices did not go up.
Studies also show that the over-the-counter price of non-carbonated beverages varies very little between states that have an expanded Bottle Bill and those that do not.
Inconvenient for whom? Big Beverage CEOs, who might have to forego that third Jaguar or putting an addition on their house in the Caymans this year? In a study of the top 30 trade associations in the US that spent more than $17.5 million each influencing policy during the Obama administration – which includes the American Beverage Association – the average CEO salary, including incentives and deferred compensation, was $2.34 million per year.
Since when does inconvenience rule public policy? One could argue that, sometimes, it’s inconvenient to obey traffic laws like those pesky speed limits and parking regulations. And it’s almost always inconvenient not to pee in public spaces. But we don’t. For the most part.
What is truly inconvenient are the millions of tons of litter in public places in Massachusetts and the precious landfill space wasted on recyclables that should and could be returned for deposit refunds. In a MassDEP-commissioned study of litter picked up at community cleanup events around the state, non-deposit beverage containers accounted for 63% of the litter. Massachusetts municipalities would save nearly $7 million annually cleaning up litter and trash through an expanded Bottle Bill.
Who Picks Up the Trash?
All of this consumption, fed by advertising, producing billions of tons of waste, raises the larger question: should corporations be required to take financial and operational responsibility for their waste? Think GE. Think BP. Or is it simply too “inconvenient”?
If society must bear the cost for cleaning up messes, well, then an updated Bottle Bill is just the thing. But for 13 years, Big Beverage has been using tactics like heavy lobbying and misinformation campaigns to fight it. So far, the investment has paid off. This November, who knows? The propaganda currently spouting misinformation is primarily funded by top contributors, listed on the card: C&S Wholesale Grocers, Inc.; Roche Bros., Inc.; Big Y Foods, Inc.; The Stop & Shop Supermarket Company LLC; and American Beverage Association. Propaganda is a powerful thing. But so are groups of people concerned about the future of the planet and maintaining a quality of life that doesn’t include giant garbage skyscrapers as depicted in the prophetic movie, Idiocracy. New York, Connecticut and Maine have already successfully expanded their bottle and can deposit laws. Will Massachusetts be next?
For more information visit:
Yes on 2 www.yeson2ma.org
The Container Recycling Institute http://www.container-recycling.org
MA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Bottle and Can Recycling http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/massdep/recycle/reduce/bottle-and-can-recycling.html
 “Advertisements with Inaccurate Data Aid Foes of Wider Bottle Law”. By David Abel . The Boston Globe. Friday, October 3, 2014. http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2014/10/02/bottle-question-supporters-decry-ads-support-grows-for-opponents-question/hJG1Hc20xLOIEO4aZWa3PM/story.html
 According to the Harvard School of Public Health, the “rising consumption of sugary drinks has been a major contributor to the obesity epidemic.” See “Sugary Drinks and Obesity Fact Sheet,” The Nutrition Source, Harvard School of Public Health, June 2012. http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/sugary-drinks-fact-sheet/
 “Ken Kimmell Testifies on Behalf of the Bottle Bill,” MassDEP, Ken’s View – Archives from Former Commissioner Kimmell. July 2011. http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/massdep/about/commissioner/archives/its-time-for-massachusetts-to-update-the-bottle-bill.html