Massachusetts has lowest bottle deposit rate, new study finds

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In Massachusetts, only 38% of eligible bottles were redeemed for a 5-cent deposit in 2021, compared to 50% in 2019 and 43% in 2020, according to group data.

Massachusetts bottle law also covers fewer different container types than any other state. Only 40% of containers are covered by a deposit in Massachusetts; California and New York, on the other hand, cover around 80% and 90% of the containers in their cylinder bills, respectively.

Among other types of beverages, Massachusetts exempt non-carbonated beverages from its bottle bill, which means beverages such as water, vitamin drinks, and iced tea are not eligible for deposit.

“No one is debating the importance of this and the impact it has on our water, our soil and our own health,” said state Rep. Marjorie Decker, a Democrat from Cambridge, who helps lead efforts to expand the Bottle Bill. “We should lead the way.”

Massachusetts is still ahead of the US average recycling rate of 35% for aluminum, glass and PET plastic bottles and cans. According to the report, beverage containers redeemed in bottle billing states have a higher recycling rate than non-returnable bottles.

But those declines still have environmental consequences, advocates said.

“It is first and foremost a greenhouse gas reduction program,” Susan Collins, president of the Container Recycling Institute, said in an interview.

Fewer greenhouse gases are emitted when creating recycled bottles compared to bottles made from virgin materials, she said.

Collins added that buying back bottles can also reduce waste, save money for municipalities that no longer have to pay for container waste disposal or pickup, and create jobs in the state for container handling.

Collins said the pandemic accelerated a years-long decline in Massachusetts redemption rates. In March 2020, the state temporarily suspended enforce bottle buy-back requirements for retailers until June, when the requirements were staggered Other states have implemented similar policies and have generally been unable to bring bottle return rates back to pre-pandemic levels, Collins said.

Massachusetts could improve its reimbursement rate by adopting policies that have worked in other states, she says.

Connecticut, for example, will double the value of the deposit from 5 cents to 10 cents and expand the bottle buyback program to include sports drinks, bottled tea and juice over the next two years.

In Massachusetts, Decker and Senate Majority Leader Cynthia Creem have introduced similar legislation increase the value of the deposit by 5 to 10 cents and expand the list of accepted containers to include almost all types.

Creem said she hoped the legislation could be passed by both houses of the legislature by the end of the official July 31 session.

“I’m sick of this turning around,” said Creem, a Democrat from Newton. “This kind of information shows how important our bottle bill will be in making the changes that the data shows need to be made.”

MASSPIRG Executive Director Janet Domenitz, a longtime supporter of expanding the state’s bottle bill, said, “We’re not asking Massachusetts to lead the way. We rely on the state to catch up with our neighbours.

Domenitz said increasing the value of the deposit would prompt more returns. “The deposit was 5 cents for 40 years,” she said. “Show me something that’s the same price as it was in the 1980s.”

Domenitz added that expanding the types of containers covered could more than double the number of containers eligible for reimbursement.

Combined, she said the bill would help consumers get back into the habit of buying back their bottles.

“At a time when so many problems in our daily lives seem overwhelming, it’s such an easy fruit to bear,” she said.


Kate Selig can be contacted at kate.selig@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @kate_selig.

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