Supermarkets launch TV ad campaign to defeat ballot question to expand bottle deposit law

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BOSTON — Supermarket chains are launching a television ad campaign to try to persuade voters to reject a ballot question that would expand Massachusetts' bottle deposit law to include bottled water and other non-carbonated beverages.

The 60-second ad argues that the change would mean higher prices on juice, bottled water, soda and other beverages. The ad also notes that if the ballot question is approved, the nickel deposit would be adjusted every five years to keep up with inflation.

The Massachusetts Sierra Club and other environmental groups, which collected the signatures necessary to put the question on the ballot, say updating the law will reduce litter and encourage recycling.

They say the initiative — Question 2 on the November ballot — would expand the law to include drinks that weren't on supermarket shelves when it was passed more than three decades ago.

"These ads are trying to fool people into thinking big beverage companies like Coke and Pepsi care more about recycling than we do," Phil Sego of the Sierra Club said in a statement. "These ads are bought and paid for by the big beverage companies who will profit from keeping things as they are now, with bottles littering our parks and waterways."

The supermarkets' ad calls the existing law a "money grab," referring to a decision by state leaders in 2003 to stop funneling millions in unclaimed deposits into a fund to aid recycling program and instead pour the money into the state's general fund.

"If you don't return you used containers, politicians get to keep your money," the ad says.

Supporters, who released an online ad Monday, say the ballot question would restore the Clean Environment Fund, using unclaimed deposits for recycling, litter cleanup and park improvements.

The ad also argues that the expanding the bottle deposit law is unneeded because the majority of Massachusetts residents already have access to curbside or other recycling opportunities in their communities.

"Over the past several weeks, we've heard tremendous enthusiasm from voters and coalition members who don't want to pay for a 1980s deposit system that doesn't meet modern recycling needs," Nicole Giambusso, a representative for No On Question 2: Stop Forced Deposits, said in a statement. The group describes itself as a coalition of environmentalists, recyclers, community organizations and businesses.

Its top five donors include four supermarket chains — Roche Bros., Big Y Foods, Stop & Shop and the operators of Price Chopper supermarkets — and the Washington-based American Beverage Association, a trade association representing the nonalcoholic beverage industry,

Opponents have already pumped more than $5.4 million into a campaign to defeat the question. Nearly all the money — $5 million — came from the beverage association.

Supporters have raised about $293,000, much of it from the Sierra Club.

Other groups supporting the ballot question include Mass Audubon, Environmental League of Massachusetts, League of Women Voters of Massachusetts and MASSPIRG.

They plan to put their online ad on television closer to Election Day, Nov. 4.

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