Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Sparks Fly in Massachusetts over Broad Recycling Plan

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Sparks Fly in Massachusetts over Broad Recycling Plan

Article excerpt

A BALLOT initiative to encourage recycling in Massachusetts has become the subject of a bitter debate as next week's vote nears.

Proponents say rules on the packaging of products sold in the state are needed to stimulate demand for recycled materials. Opponents say the initiative amounts to a costly new bureaucracy and an unnecessary government intervention in the marketplace.

The initiative comes as leaders around the country, including all three major presidential candidates, appear headed in a new direction: toward using "market-based" incentives to attack environmental problems.

With a torrent of business-sponsored advertising warning residents of higher shopping bills, the vote promises to be close. The "Massachusetts Packaging Reduction and Recycling Act," Question 3 on the ballot, would be the nation's first comprehensive packaging measure if passed.

It would apply to all the estimated 50,000 to 75,000 products sold in the state. Other states have implemented recycled-content rules for specific materials, such as newsprint.

Retailers here would have several alternative ways to comply: showing that packages are reused, that the weight has been reduced, that the materials used in the package are being recycled, or that the package itself contains recycled materials.

Of 39,000 retailers in Massachusetts, 27,000 would be exempted because they have less than 10 employees. Benefits of the measure such as weight-reduction and recyclability would still show up in packaging used at the exempted stores without imposing the regulatory burden on them, says the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MassPIRG), the initiative's sponsor.

Some products could win exemptions from the rules if it was shown that noncompliant packaging was essential to meet health or safety needs.

One critic of the measure, Lynn Scarlett, says better results can be achieved at a much lower cost through an incentive system known as "unit pricing" - making consumers bear their full share of garbage-collection costs to encourage diverting waste from landfills.

Ms. Scarlett, a recycling expert at the Reason Foundation in Los Angeles, was in Boston last week to present her incentive scheme, which won a "better government" award in a competition sponsored by the Pioneer Institute. …

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