(April 28, 2003) — Quick, name one thing that the Detroit Free Press, the Boston Globe and the New York Times agree on.
Did you guess bottle-bill expansion?
All three papers recently wrote editorials endorsing expansion of bottle bills to cover noncarbonated drinks like waters and juices. My point is not to celebrate or castigate those papers for their opinions —- only to note that a few years ago, it would have been unheard of for such large papers to devote a lot of ink to recycling and solid waste.
Other places are getting in the act. A California legislative committee voted last week to double the state's container deposit to a nickel, and other legislators in the Golden State want to tax disposable plastic bags and cups, evoking comparisons to plastic bag bans that have swept the world from Ireland to Taiwan. The California bag tax is considered serious enough that industry is organizing significant coalitions to fight it.
Container-deposit legislation also is attracting attention. The governor in Massachusetts, Republican Mitt Romney, and in Michigan, Democrat Jennifer Granholm, both support bottle-bill expansion. A state legislative task force is studying recycling in Michigan.
And in New York, an active coalition in favor of expansion has the support of the state's attorney general.
Right about now I'm sure that many business people are shaking their heads, wondering why politicians are contemplating new taxes on businesses that are struggling to survive.
The plastic bag industry, for example, has been hurt particularly hard in the last few years, as cheaper imported bags have flooded the country.
But state governments are in the same tight financial situation as industry, and it's those tight budgets that make many of these solid waste proposals so attractive.
Expanding New York's bottle bill, and more importantly, bringing the state's unclaimed deposits into the government coffers (and away from the beverage industry, which currently controls them) would bring in $135 million a year, by one estimate.
Romney in Massachusetts, for his part, wants to expand the bottle bill and transfer the unredeemed deposits from state environmental programs to the general fund. Environmentalists aren't too happy about that last part.
There are other factors at work than just the money, of course. Some officials have been concerned for years with falling container-recycling rates in both aluminum and PET. The PET rate has dropped from 40 percent to 22 percent since 1995.
Businesses may be wondering how much of this new environmentalism in state capitols is motivated mainly by money. That's a legitimate point.
But here's another legitimate point — industry groups have yet to come up with or support any convincing programs that really will make a difference with those declining recycling rates.
They've certainly put forward good ideas that can help, like the “all-bottle” recycling programs and massive efforts at sports stadiums. But those won't result in big changes.
In a tough economy, industry groups have legitimate questions about the burdens of bottle bills or how additional environmental taxes will be used. But just blocking them and then pushing the waste problem back onto cash-strapped cities isn't a responsible solution, either.
Toloken is Plastics News' Washington-based staff reporter.