Boston — 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.
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.
Mr. Byrne-Massaro and his colleagues hope that $100,000 can be raised to promote the planned initiative petition that they anticipate will be countered by $1 million in spending by the opposition.
In California, Ross Pumfrey, who is spearheading a drive for a state bottle law using an initiative petition, says his group's goal is $1 million. Part of this would be used for a paid staff to work with a small army of volunteers who will be needed early next year to collect some 346,000 voter signatures for putting the question on the state ballot.
The bottle and can industry and others bent on blocking passage of the proposal will pour as much as $6 million into opposing it, Mr. Pumfrey estimates , based on what these groups have invested in other states.
Pumfrey says his Californians Against Waste group has raised some $75,000 thus far.
Since 1975, state Sen. Omer Rains, a Ventura Democrat, has been filing bottle-law legislation in California with little success. His current measure is expected to come up in mid-August in the California Senate's Natural Resources and Wildlife Committee, but prospects for a favorable report are uncertain. Only once in the last six years has such a proposal reached the floor of either California legislative chamber.
In Massachusetts, where lawmakers approved a bottle bill two years ago only to have it vetoed by Gov. Edward J. King, a new measure appears to have even-broader legislative support. But it may still fall short of the two- thirds needed to override another veto.
Governor King, who visited Michigan for two days in June to check on how that state's bottle law is working, has not said whether he would reject a new bottle bill.
If the Bay State measure fails, its supporters seem likely to launch an initiative-petition drive. A similar effort in 1976 was narrowly beaten in a bitterly contested campaign in which opposition forces spent $2.3 million, much of it from out-of-state sources. Backers of the measure spent less than $50,000 .
Perhaps the nation's most-determined bottle-law advocates are in Washington State. Their 1982 drive, now being planned, will be the third try to gain passage of the measure by ballot initiative. Similar petitions in 1970 and 1979 were beaten. In the 1979 effort, supporters were outspent by about 10 to 1 by bottle and can industry interests. "This time we will need at least $200,000," projects Christine Chapman, executive director of Washington Citizens for Recycling. To get on next year's ballot, 138,000 voter signatures will be needed.
Although New York State legislators thus far have failed to pass a deposit law, supporters are increasingly optimistic.
"We've got a lot going for us," asserts attorney Henry Neale Jr., chairman of the Westchester County Environmental Management Council. He notes that several local governments have approved resolutions urging passage of the law.
The new Delaware statute replaces one that tied implementation of the state's ban on no-deposit bottles to passage of a similar law in neighboring Maryland and Pennsylvania.