Berkshire Activists Lobby for Yes on Question 2

By Joe DurwinPittsfield Correspondent
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Supporters of Question 2 set up with giant bottle on Park Square on Thursday.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — As next week's statewide election approaches, local environmentalists and others have mounted substantial efforts to lobby in favor of Ballot Question 2, which would expand on Massachusetts' existing bottle bill.

Proponents of the ballot initiative, which would expand current monetary incentives for recycling soda and beer bottles to non-carbonated beverages, lined Park Square on Thursday beneath a giant inflatable bottle to get their point across.

Advocates say expansion of the law is crucial to increasing recycling that will both reduce waste in the environment and help reduce deleterious greenhouse effects.

"It would be like taking 7,000 cars off the road if we just expand the Massachusetts bottle bill," said Jenny Gitlitz of Dalton, who has been a leader in organizing local response to the ballot question.

Gitlitz cited the Container Recycling Institute, for which she has worked, in saying 80 percent of bottles with refundable deposits are currently recycled, compared to 23 percent of non-eligible bottles.  If the expanded deposit system proposed were to increase this to the level seen in soda and beer bottles, that would result in an energy savings of 1 trillion BTUs per year, she said.

"It takes more energy to produce a bottle from virgin materials than it does from secondary, or recycled materials," said Gitlitz.

Support for Question 2 has been extensive among local elected officials and includes the entire Berkshire delegation - Reps. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, Paul Mark, William "Smitty" Pignatelli and Gailanne Cariddi and Sen. Benjamin B. Downing - as well as North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright, Pittsfield Mayor Daniel Bianchi, Berkshire County District Attorney David Capeless and Berkshire County Sheriff Thomas Bowler.

"Curbside recycling is great for the 47 percent of cities and towns that have it, but many towns in the Berkshires just don't have it," according Farley-Bouvier, who represents Pittsfield. "Curbside also doesn't work for all the drinks we consume on-the-go. The five-cent deposit has been a success in Massachusetts for over 30 years, and it should be extended to water, sports drinks, and other new age beverages."

Downing agreed, saying updating the bottle bill will reduce litter and save money for cities and towns in the Berkshires.

"This campaign is about environmentalists who care about cleaning up our forests and streams, versus big beverage companies pouring millions of dollars into our state to protect their own profits," he said. "I want to continue to keep Massachusetts clean, so I am voting yes on Question 2."

At least 110 local and state organizations have also endorsed the initiative, including Sierra Club, Mass Audubon, Environmental League of Massachusetts, League of Women Voters of Massachusetts, Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MassPIRG) and the Berkshire Environmental Action Team.

Gitlitz has been working with the local 350MA chapter to organize efforts such as Thursday's Park Square standout, and they have also been actively involved in canvassing efforts throughout the more populous areas of Berkshire County.

"In terms of what we can accomplish as Massachusetts voters, I think it's pretty significant," she said.

Such activist efforts have faced an uphill climb, following a $7.8 million advertising campaign by bill opponent American Beverage Association. The effects of that campaign have been vivid as measured in voter polls, which saw a stark reversal from 62 percent to only 33 percent in favor from August to October.

"The real big money comes from the beverage industry," said Gitlitz. "It's the beverage companies that are the face of No on 2."

Tags: ballot,   bottle bill,   election 2014,   recycling,   

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