IT TOOK EIGHT years, several crushing setbacks and a dramatic overriding of a governor's veto, but coalitions of citizens in Massachusetts have just struck a blow for their countryside of tomorrow--enacting an anti-litter law requiring deposits on beer and soft-drink containers. And as The Boston Globe noted, this campaign against throwaway trash was "a textbook study of the value of persistence in the political arena." Attention, citizens' organizations in Maryland, Virginia and the District: please copy.
In becoming the seventh state to enact such legislation (Maine, Connecticut, Vermont, Oregon, Michigan and Iowa are the others), Massachusetts adds important landscape to a New England core region where neatness now counts, thanks to container deposit requirements. Any visitor can readily notice the difference in Maine, Connecticut and Vermont, for example; and even though Gov. Edward J. King did veto the Massachusetts bill, he had weakened his own opposition by making a trip to Michigan earlier this year and then reporting that some of his doubts about the bill had been erased by his study of Michigan's law.
Efforts to enact laws in this region, not to mention congressional moves to get a federal law passed, have been every bit as frustrating as in Massachusetts. At various times, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, Fairfax, Loudoun and Montgomery counties and Bowie have supported bills, but, absent a coordinated effort, elected officials have backed off in the face of well-financed lobbying by the people who manufacture the tens of billions of throwaway containers sold in this country every year.
The industry's responses are variations on any distraction that still perpetuates the constant manufacture and sale of new bottles and cans; these include proposals for a "litter tax" or "recycling law" that is supposed to finance or attract volunteer cleanup crews. Instead of a deposit law-- with an automatic incentive to every buyer to return containers-- the glass, aluminum and other industries prefer promotions where they pay modest sums for enormous batches of containers rounded up by people willing to run around playing trash collector.
Many lawmakers in Massachusetts fell for these approaches for years. One state senator who said he had voted against the bill previously--but who was among five senators to switch to support it in the recent past--noted just before voting to override Gov. King's veto that "a no vote would be a victory for the special interest of a few at the expense of many. A yes vote on the bottle bill signifies a commitment to the future and to forward-looking policies."
Supporters in this region haven't given up--and shouldn't. In Annapolis, in Richmond and in the District, the efforts may be uphill again; but more and more people seem to be ahead of their lawmakers in seeking to curb the enormous and expensive excesses of the "throwaway mentality."