Bottle-bill forces mail cans, sign petitions to press issue

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Hundreds of pounds of "junk mail" is on its way to Massachusetts Gov. Edward J. King. But will he get the message? Still angered by his 1979 veto of a "bottle bill" and determined to salvage similar legislation this year, those seeking to ban throwaway beer and soft drink containers from the commonwealth are urging fellow citizens to send empty beverage cans to the state chief executive.

Meanwhile, in Montana a coalition of environmentalists is pushing toward a similar goal, but from a somewhat different direction. Their current drive to collect some 16,000 signatures would place a strong anti-litter referendum on next November's statewide ballot.

The Montana proposal, unlike those approved in the six states that have enacted and kept "bottle laws" over the past nine years, does not mandate at the outset an end to all "no-deposit" bottles and cans. Instead, it gives the beverage-container makers, beer and soft drink manufacturers and distributors, and retailers a chance to come up with a program acceptable to the state for reducing the litter of no-deposit bottles and cans.

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To prevent implementation of a standby 5- cent deposit on glass, metal, and plastic beverage containers, at least 60 percent of the cans and bottles would have to be recycled between July 1981 and June 1982. This proportion would have to reach 75 percent by June 1983 and 85 percent in each 12-month period thereafter.

And as of March 1983, beer and soft drinks in non-refillable bottles and non-recyclable cans would be forbidden in the state.

Backers of the referendum, including Montanans for Litter Control and Recycling, are encouraged by recent polls, which indicate that voters there favor such a statute about 4 to 1.

A ballot victory, however, is by no means certain. Strong industry opposition to the "bottle law" is beginning to surface, and an estimated $300, 000 advertising campaign is expected to fight the referendum.

The ballot approach, similar to those that have succeeded in the past in both Maine and Michigan, is deemed necessary because state lawmakers have failed to approve such a measure in past tries, Mr. Males explains.

"Bottle bill" activists across the nation appear increasingly convinced that despite what some might consider slow progress, their movement is gaining momentum. They note that no state that has put such a measure on its books has later repealed it. Last November, Maine's citizens voted 83 percent to 17 percent to keep its 1976 beverage container deposit law.

Particularly encouraging to the coalition of consumer, environmental, and citizen groups pressing for enactment of the Massachusetts legislation is the "very beneficial impact" of such a measure in Michigan.

"Contrary to what had been forecast by opponents of the Michigan 'bottle law' it has not resulted in substantial loss of jobs but rather a net increase of nearly 32,000 in total employment," emphasizes Massachusetts state Sen. John W. Olver, chairman of the group pressing for a similar measure here.

Such a statute would benefit Massachusetts by increasing employment opportunities, reducing solid-waste disposal costs, lowering consumer prices, reducing energy consumption, and dramatically decreasing litter, "bottle bill" boosters assert.

Beverage bottles and cans strewn along Michigan highways declined by 84 percent during the first year of the mandatory deposit statute there.

"Public reaction to the law has been very positive," says Michigan state Sen. Stephen Monsma of Grand Rapids, who chairs the special legislative commission studying the effects of the measure in Michigan.

Besides Maine and Michigan, the "bottle law" states are Connecticut, Iowa, Oregon, and Vermont. The measures in the first two, however, have been in effect for less than a year.

Delaware also has such a statute on its books, but on a standby basis. Its implementation hinges on passage of similar legislation in both Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Earlier this year lawmakers in Maryland rejected a "bottle bill," but the margin of defeat was much narrower than the 83-to-48 vote might indicate, says Sandra Nelson, of Washington-based Environmental Action, a national organization pressing for such measures.

"Bottle bill" proponents similarly were disappointed in Rhode Island.

Proponents of the Massachusetts "bottle bill" are confident it will pass as it did last year, when it cleared both chambers. And they want to have what they hope will be an avalanche of individually wrapped used beverage cans to demonstrate "broad public support."

Similar proposals are being discussed and soon may be in the works in several other states, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Washington.

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