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Backers of bottle bans have that winning feeling

By George B. MerryStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / July 29, 1981


Environmental groups slowly but surely seem to be winning the war to ban throwaway "no deposit" beverage bottles and cans. Despite continued stiff and well-financed opposition from makers of beer and soft-drink containers and brewers, support for a "bottle law" is showing modest growth at the local, state, and federal levels.

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In recent months, for example, measures to ban nonreturnable bottles and cans have gone on the books in New York's Suffolk County and in Delaware. The latter , signed into law July 14 by Gov. Pierre S. du Pont IV to take effect next summer, brings to seven the number of states to adopt restrictions.

Beer and soft-drink sales in no-deposit containers also are banned in connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Oregon, and Vermont.

Environmental groups say such throwaway bottles and cans encourage littering of public lands and roadsides. In contrast, studies of states that require deposits show that between 90 and 95 percent of containers are returned and not discarded, reports Sandy Nelson of the Washington D.C. -based lobbying organization Environmental Action.

Currently, bottle bills are under consideration in at least four more states -- California, Massachusets, New York, and Wisconsin -- although none is close to passage.

Initiative-petition drives to put "bottle law" proposals on next year's state ballots are being shaped in at least five states, including the aforementioned California and Massachusetts where such efforts would be pushed should legislation fail.

Advocates of a national "bottle law" also are rallying their forces in the US Congress and hope a bill will clear the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. That panel, chaired by Sen. Bob Packwood (R) of Oregon, one of the proposal's sponsors, has scheduled a public hearing for September.

Similar legislation in the US House, filed by Rep. James M. Jeffords (R) of Vermont and 43 cosponsors from both political parties, is languishing in the Subcommittee on Commerce, Transportation, and Tourism.

That subcommittee's chairman, Rep. James J. Florio (D) of New Jersey, not a bottle-law advocate, is increasingly occupied with his campaign for governor back home.

Encouraged by what they view as mounting public support for their cause, bottle bill activists from Arizona, California, Colorado, and Washington State are planning a two-day conference Aug. 22 and 23 to map strategies for placing measures on November 1982 ballots in their states.

The session, being held in Portland, Ore., is expected to be briefed by backers of a modified deposit-law measure in Montana that was turned down by voters last November.

In that campaign, foes of the proposed law outspent proponents by $450,000 to

"There is no way we can come up with anything close to what the opposition will be able to spend," laments Tony ByrneMassaro, executive director of Coloradans for a Recycling Law. To get their bottle bill on the 1982 state ballot, some 38,000 voter signatures must be collected within a six-month period.