Cape Cod bills could modernize recycling but face opposition

CENTREVILLE—As Andrea Pendergast fed bottles and cans into the buy-back machine at the liquor store she co-owns, she pondered the shortcomings of the existing recycling system.

“The refund system is flawed,” said Pendergast, co-owner of Cape Cod Package Store Fine Wine & Spirits. “It’s a system that we have to improve together. We all have to do our part.”


Officials and those in the tourism industry are speaking out against the litter that marries Cape Town’s quaint towns and villages, beaches and roads.

There are ongoing arguments about solutions, Pendergast said, but no clear consensus on what to do. Environmental groups, bottling industries and stores are vying for policies included in a range of bills regarding recycling initiatives.

Andrea Pendergast, co-owner of Cape Cod Package Store in Centerville, adds cans to one of her store's redemption machines.

Two bills have been introduced: the Better Bottle Bill and the Clean Act. Both bills attempt to modernize recycling and focus on single-use containers and plastics, litter, ecology and nips. The Clean Act, however, does not call for increased deposit fees, but increases processing fees by 1 to 3 cents, which will have a big impact on store owners with on-site redemption centers.

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The Clean Act expands coverage to include nips as a recyclable material, but the bill limits reimbursable containers to beer and malt beverages, soda or mineral water, and similar soft drinks. The Clean Act was introduced by Rep. Josh Cutler, D-Duxbury, in February 2021 and was referred to the Joint Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee in March 2021.

The Better Bottle Bill was drafted and passed in 1982, but the legislation has not been updated since then. The most recent overhaul was introduced in October 2021 by Rep. Marjorie Decker, D-Cambridge, and Senator Cynthia Stone Creem, D-Newton, who want to expand the measure to include water bottles, juice bottles, vitamin drinks, pinches, sports drinks, iced teas and other beverage containers that did not exist when the original bill was passed. Lawmakers are also proposing to increase bottle deposits by 5 to 10 cents.

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The Best Bottle Bill was sent to the Senate Ways and Means Committee for further consideration in January.

Extended list of supported containers

Sarah Becker, program associate for MASSPIRG, argues for the Better Bottle Bill because she said it’s the most comprehensive update.

“The Clean Act includes miniatures and pinches and increases handling fees and one or two more beverage containers, but it doesn’t increase the deposit,” she said. “We take a neutral stance on the Clean Act because it does some good things, but it doesn’t go as far as the Better Bottle Bill.”

Becker says the increased deposit in the Better Bottle Bill can help weed out what she calls “new age containers” from landfills and incinerators.

Andrew Gottlieb, executive director of the Association to Preserve Cape Cod, said economic incentives have been eroded by the passage of time.

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“The nickel is not worth today what it was worth 30 years ago. The extra 5 cent deposit is an incentive for the buyer of the container to return it,” he said. “Or it’s an incentive for someone to take the time to retrieve the container that was thoughtlessly and thoughtlessly thrown into the landscape by the original buyer.”

A recent study by Reloop North America found that 42% of Better Bottle Bill containers are recycled. If the deposit is increased to 10 cents, the recycling rate would increase with an additional 14 billion plastic, glass and aluminum containers diverted from landfills, soil and waterways. The study also showed that recycling would increase from 42% to 90%, with less waste, less greenhouse gas emissions, increased cost savings, more job opportunities and increased use. EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility).

40 years behind in a Better Bottle Bill

Part of the reason for the four-decade delay in updating the Better Bottle Bill, Becker said, is opposition from the beverage and bottling industries. There have been a number of attempts to update the bill in the past, including in 2014 when the bill was proposed as a public ballot measure, she said.

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“We’ve seen tremendous support from municipalities, individuals, environmental groups and small businesses,” she said. “And then the beverage and bottling industry spent us 10 times more with misleading advertisements.”

The ads told audiences, Becker said, that the bill wasn’t modern enough to be effective.

“If the bill were to become law, these industries would not be responsible for the manufacture and sale of the bottles,” she said. “They would be responsible for the recovery and management of waste instead of being the problem of consumers or municipalities.

“We know these systems work. We’ve also seen the beverage and bottling industry lie about it. And that was a huge hurdle to overcome,” she said.

Robert Mellion, executive director of the Massachusetts Package Stores Association, Inc., said the legislation needs to move forward, but because the Better Bottle Bill does not include a processing fee in its legislation, stores are left to account.

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With a struggling workforce and a pay rise for employees, Mellion said legislation to increase processing fees would go a long way.

An increase in management fees would help

Another problem with the current system, Mellion said, is that delivery companies aren’t consistent with picking up recyclables in a timely manner. Stores are having to deal with broken glass, crushed cans and plastic bottles flooding stores across the state. The waste can sometimes linger for months, Mellion said, as state-contracted distributors keep staff to a minimum to ensure greater profits.

“I don’t think a bill will solve the problem, but at least by increasing the processing fee, it will help alleviate a bit of retailer anger over this unfunded mandate,” he said. .

Despite industry opposition, Gottlieb said his organization and others are pulling together to push through revisions to the Better Bottle Bill.

"Nickel is no longer worth today what it was worth 30 years ago," said Andrew Gottlieb, executive director of the Association to Preserve Cape Cod.  Lawmakers want to increase recycled bottle deposits from 5 to 10 cents in the Better Bottle Bill.

“On the one hand, retail associations, packaging stores and the bottling industry cynically oppose the ban on single-use plastic bottle containers and claim that a proposed revised bottle law is a better public policy option than banning the use of a product,” he said. “But, on the other hand, they did nothing to support the passage of such a bill and actively worked against its passage.”

Current State of Recycling on Cape Cod

Bottles and cans, however, make up only a small percentage of Cape Town’s waste stream.

Kari Parcell, waste reduction coordinator for Barnstable County, said a feasibility study in November 2020 was conducted by Geosyntec Consultants and Tetra Tech, consulting and engineering firms, analyzing the cost- advantage of out-of-state waste disposal, keeping in mind the environmental factors that drive people to recycle.

“It looks at the waste stream itself,” she said. “The other piece looked at hard-to-recycle materials and other basic materials for recycling – looking at markets and cost collections.”

The study showed that organic waste – yard, garden and food waste accounted for 36% of Cape Town’s waste stream.

“It’s like walking out of the grocery store with four bags of groceries, dropping one in the parking lot, and continuing to walk,” she said.

Construction and demolition waste, including asphalt, brick and concrete, accounted for 12% of material flow; followed by 12% paper and cardboard; 12% plastic; 8% other; 6% textile and leather; 4% bulky materials; 3.5% metal; and 3% glass.

Although the number of residences has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, Parcell said, the total tonnage of waste increased by 2.3% between 2019 and 2020 and hovered at 85,000 tons in disposal streams. .

Andrea Pendergast, co-owner of Cape Cod Package Store in Centerville, regularly cleans up trash around her store, and she also keeps a large blue bin at her entrance to collect recyclable containers.

It takes a village

Pendergast supports the Clean Act, but said it’s been a struggle to juggle the intricacies of the legislation as she recycles at her store.

Not only does she regularly clean up the trash around her Centerville store, but she also keeps a large blue bin at her entrance to collect recyclable containers, which she processes through Nauset Disposal.

Additionally, Pendergast also partners with organizations like Keep Mass Beautiful to host fall and spring cleanups. The next event will be on Sunday May 1st and volunteers will meet at Barnstable High School at a time to be determined.

Pendergast hopes the whole community can engage in consumer education to aggressively find solutions.

“Rather than point fingers and blame, I looked at myself and said, ‘Let me see what I can do to help. It feels good, as a company, to take matters into our own hands,” she said. “We always want to demonstrate that we are united with our community to solve this waste problem. deprive us of it.”

Contact Rachael Devaney at [email protected]

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