WOBURN - With several aldermen changing their position on the proposal, the City Council refused to support a resolution asking the state Legislature to stamp a 5 cent deposit charge on single-serving or 'nip' alcohol containers.
During a meeting earlier this week in City Hall, the resolution introduced by Mayor Scott Galvin in late January failed to pass muster in a 4-to-5 vote. The initiative's defeat was somewhat unexpected, as all but two members of the council — Alderman at-large Michael Concannon and Ward 6 Alderman Edward Tedesco — had just days earlier agreed the non-binding request should be forwarded the state Legislature.
That previous endorsement came from the council's Liaison Committee, which during a gathering on Feb. 25, recommended favorable action on the resolution in a 7-to-1 vote.
Joining with Tedesco and Concannon on the 'nay' side, those changing that stance at this week's meeting included Ward 2 Alderman Richard Gately, Ward 3 Alderman Mark Gaffney, and Ward 7 Alderman Lindsay Higgins.
At the outset of this year, Galvin submitted the resolution to the council and suggested the state's "bottle bill" should be expanded to include a 5 cent deposit for nips, which can commonly be found discarded on city streets and parks. In his memo, he asked the council to join with him in lobbying the state Legislature to authorize the charge for the single-serving containers.
To justify the proposal, the mayor noted that back in the 1980's, when the state first enacted the bottle bill, citizens commonly complained about a large volume of aluminum cans and glass bottles littering public spaces.
However, once the regulations became law in the state in 1983, consumers reportedly changed their behavior in light of the 5 cent deposit being assessed for beer and soda beverages.
Late last month, the council's Liaison Committee, meeting as-a-whole, agreed with the rationale behind the mayor's request. The lone dissenter was Concannon, who pointed out that in 2014, Woburn's voters overwhelmingly rejected a ballot referendum question aimed at expanding the scope of the law to include water bottles and sports drinks.
"To the main resolve, we're being asked to speak on behalf of the citizens of Woburn to the state Legislature…The last time we heard their voices on this issue, they were shouting, 'Don't do it!'" said the alderman at-large.
This week, Tedesco, who was absent from the Liaison Committee gathering, joined with Concannon to oppose passage of the resolution.
Similarly citing the outcome of the ballot question in 2014, when nearly 70 percent of Massachusetts' voters rejected the initiative, Tedesco reminded his colleagues that nearly 85 percent of Woburn's citizens cast ballots against the bottle-bill expansion.
Also referring to literature distributed at the time of that state election, the North Woburn alderman further characterized the 5 cent charge as akin to a money grab, as unredeemed deposits that are collected by the state are used to support budgetary needs with no nexus to environmental cleanup efforts or recycling programs.
"Almost $30 million a year from the redemption fee for the bottle bill goes straight to the general fund, with no link to environmental impacts or grants. It's just straight money that goes to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts," he said.
"I don't see the bottle bill as good policy. I think it's a regressive tax policy," he added.
Ward 5 Alderman Darlene Mercer-Bruen agreed with that characterization of the bottle bill proceeds, but explained she nonetheless supports the resolution in light of the neighborhood blight being caused by nip bottles being discarded in her district.
According to the East Woburn official, she sees merit behind the mayor's argument that litter scofflaws are more likely to hang onto their trash, if they can get their 5 cent deposit back.
"I agree with you. It's a slush fund. But at the end of the day, I hear from many constituents about these nip bottles being thrown all over their sidewalks and in our public parks. Those same people, who are throwing them [all over the place], might be included to pick them up, if they could be redeemed," she commented.
The mayor's solution to the litter problem stopped for short of more drastic actions considered by municipal officials in Chelsea and Winthrop, where outright bans on the sale of single-serving alcohol products have been enacted.
Randolph also debated a similar sales prohibition, but the South Shore community's licensing board ultimately rejected the measure at the outset of 2018.
Also known as the Beverage Container Recovery Law, the state's bottle bill was seen as a way to both discourage littering and increase recycling practices. Consumers, who pay a 5 cent deposit for qualifying beer and soft drinks, are able to recover that money by returning the containers to retail stores and bottle-and-can redemption centers.
The state also enjoys financial benefits from the system, as any unredeemed deposits flow back into the general fund.
According to a 2017 study by the Container Recycling Institute (CRI), a non-profit organization that tracks the success of various bottle bills across the country, Massachusetts consumers in 2015 paid $106 million in deposits as part of the bottle bill system.
That same year, about $43 million worth of unclaimed deposits was transferred back to the Mass. Department of Revenue.