Lynn Wolbarst carrying one of 15 petition-packed boxes to the Secretary of State's office

EDITORIAL NOTE: This guest blog post was written by Karen Price, Vice President, Lynn Wolbarst, Environmental Specialist and Launa Zimmaro, Director and Environmental Specialist of the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts

The League of Women Voters of Massachusetts (LWV MA) along with our coalition partners, have been advocating updating our current bottle deposit law for the past 10 years. Massachusetts has had a bottle deposit law since 1983, charging a 5-cent deposit for bottles and cans for carbonated beverages. The updated bottle bill would extend the deposit to containers of non-carbonated beverages—the on-the-go water, tea, and sports drinks that have exploded onto the market since the original law was enacted. In Massachusetts the bottle deposit law is the most successful recycling measure in the history of the state, but it could be even more effective with passage of the updated bill. Currently,  80 percent of carbonated beverage containers are recycled/redeemed, while 23 percent of non-carbonated beverage containers are recycled, the rest going into the solid waste stream.

The updated bottle bill has been a priority issue for LWV MA for many years. LWV MA Specialist, Lynn Wolbarst, with guidance from legislative director Carole Pelchat, has testified (PDF) in favor of the updated bottle bill in each of the past four, two-year sessions of the Legislature, including at the most recent hearing in September. In April 2012, at our annual Day on the Hill lobbying event, our legislative specialists expressed the frustration of trying to get this popular bill before the Legislature. One of our members in attendance rallied us to action with “Let’s go to the Speaker’s office now!” Spontaneously members banded together, made impromptu signs, and marched up the State House grand staircase to the Speaker’s office where we assembled in the hallway and broke out into a rousing rendition of “100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall,” with appropriate lyrical modifications such as, “One hundred bottles of water on the wall, one hundred bottles of water. Take one down, recycle it, ninety-nine bottles of water on the wall…” As a result of our musical advocacy, a few of us were invited into the Speaker's office to speak with staffers about our concerns!

Fast forward to Fall 2013, and our coalition has decided to move forward on the option of passing the bill by ballot question (PDF) essentially by-passing the inactive Legislature. Given the spontaneous display of support 18 months earlier, it was no surprise that 36 Massachusetts Leagues answered the call to collect the 10,000 signatures LWV MA promised to collect. Leagues large and small across the state answered the call and collected anywhere from 50 to 3,000 signatures. In fact, our Leagues surpassed LWV MA’s original goal by collecting 20,000 signatures, and making a significant contribution to the total of 130,000 signatures collected, leading to the Secretary of State’s announcement that the initiative petition qualified, with well over the required amount of certified signatures.

What were the keys to our success? League members had been waiting for an opportunity to do grassroots advocacy work on this bill after a frustrating 10 years working on the legislative route. And while the bill has widespread support and signature-gatherers reported overwhelming support when talking to citizens collecting signatures, a well-organized effort was required. In eight short weeks LWV MA organized the local Leagues, set up weekly reporting, collected the signatures and delivered them. Our efforts paid off when we doubled our pledge.

But the road to a passage of this bill, either through the legislative process or as a ballot question, has many hurdles and is arduous by design. We will only attain true success when the updated bottle bill becomes law. The Legislature has another chance to pass the bill. If the petition is rejected by the Legislature or the Legislature fails to act by the first Wednesday in May, incredibly, we’ll need to collect an additional 11,485 signatures in order for the question to appear on the November 2014 ballot. While public support for the update is high, strong opposition from opponents is expected based on the history of the bill (PDF).

In the meantime, Lynn Wolbarst and Vice-President for Program and Action Nancy Brumback, are back lobbying the Legislature, trying to get it to pass the bill, in the hopes of saving everyone an expensive campaign and a nasty fight with well-funded opponents. We are ready and willing to advocate for the ballot question in November and we will never give up!

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