Voters in Columbia, Mo., have repealed the city's container-deposit law, the first time a bottle bill has been overturned in the United States.
In a vote that was watched closely in bottle-bill circles around the country, the city's electorate voted 10,500 to 7,700 on April 2 to repeal its nickel deposit on carbonated beverages.
The campaign was hard-fought - supporters and opponents flooded local newspapers, television and radio with advertising and the debate dominated news coverage in the weeks leading up to the vote.
Those who favored repealing the law said the key was articulating that voters have an alternative - the city's curbside recycling system - and that deposits are inconvenient and costly.
Deposits cost the city's economy about $1.6 million a year because retailers and beverage distributors must bear the expense of handling the returned containers, said Michael Woolf, campaign manager of the beverage industry coalition that favored getting rid of the bottle bill. Woolf also is president of Campaign Connection Inc., a Jefferson City, Mo., political consulting firm.
The deposits also cost the city government $300,000 a year because valuable aluminum cans are diverted from the curbside stream, he said. Some bottle-bill supporters said the figure more likely is half that.
Supporters of the bottle bill - a local group called Columbians Against Throwaways, and the Arlington, Va.-based Container Recycling Institute - said they were vastly outspent by the soft drink makers and grocery stores that wanted to overturn the deposits.
``Soft drink, beer and grocery spending allowed Prop. 1 supporters to reach every registered voter in Columbia several times, through mailings, television, radio and newspaper advertising,'' said Pat Franklin, CRI executive director.
The beverage industry campaign spent about $25,000 through March 21, the last date covered by campaign spending reports. The pro-bottle-bill coalition reported spending about $10,000. That figure does not include money poured in as the campaign heated up at the end, however.
Woolf said the beverage and grocery industries were ``the major factor in our campaign, as far as the financing and doing the work.'' The industry group called itself the ``Yes on Recycling - Yes on Prop 1 Committee.''
Woolf dismissed arguments that his group's spending advantage carried the day.
``If it was a situation where the media ignored the issue, that argument would carry some weight,'' he said. ``I think it was really just a matter of people recognizing that things have changed in Columbia.''
The last time voters considered repealing the bill, in 1988, Columbia did not have a curbside recycling system. Then, voters decided overwhelmingly to keep deposits.
Columbia Mayor Darwin Hindman, who volunteered his time as a young lawyer a quarter-century ago to defend the city's bottle bill from court challenges, said he still favors deposits. The city may need to look at a container tax or a tax on fast-food carryout packaging, he said.
``We're all going to have to work together to deal with the recycling questions and the litter cleanup questions,'' he said. ``It will be interesting to see how successful we will be without a deposit.''