Kentucky's bottle-bill debate offers a lesson on the power of money in politics. Industries opposed to the legislation have a lot more money than pro-bottle bill forces, and they used it to stop the bill, whose supporters included some influential legislators and the governor.
A Plastics News examination of spending in the state's January-to-March legislative session found that industries outspent environmental groups by a ratio of more than 10-to-1 on advertising, the most costly part of the campaign. Industry also enjoyed an advantage in traditional lobbying costs, although it was less than 2-to-1.
We think it's a shame industry was able to defeat the bill. Bottle bills continue to be the only effective solution we see — on a wide scale — for reversing a decline in the plastic recycling rate.
With a lot of help from its advertising campaign, the industry was able to paint the bottle bill as a tax. A small part of the bill was an advance disposal fee — clearly a tax. But it's questionable to call the bottle deposit itself a tax, since it is refundable.
The beverage industry, recyclers and environmentalists all acknowledge that there's a lot of unused capacity in plastic recycling systems. The Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers reiterated its call recently that not enough material is being collected.
The problem, as we see it, is that the beverage, packaging, plastics and allied industries are not offering anything as effective as container deposits.
The National Association for PET Container Resources argues for a boost in curbside programs. Fair point, but it begs the question of who will pay.
Industry has helped to develop recycling by funding research and doing pilot projects. But by and large, those are small-scale efforts. Industry needs to do more than just stand in the way of container deposit legislation.