Random Friday Question: Why Doesn't D.C. Have a Bottle Bill?
The Washington area boasts the highest combination of affluence and education in the nation, and that same demographic profile aligns almost perfectly with the list of places in the country where you have to pay a deposit on every bottle of soda or beer--a 1970s era bit of green politics that proved to be very popular for a short while and then stalled out.
But despite this region's economic profile, neither the District nor the surrounding states jumped on board the bottle bill bandwagon back then, nor has the mid-Atlantic region seemed particularly interested in the new wave of bottle bills being pushed in state legislatures around the country. What happened to the deposit movement here? And why, in this moment of rising concern about global warming and wasted resources, doesn't the generally liberal politics of the Washington region line up with this particular piece of green policy?
That's today's Random Friday Question, which was sparked by a piece in last Sunday's New York Times magazine, in which writer Jon Mooallem explored why little plastic bottles of water, that odd accoutrement of contemporary fashion, are exempt from bottle deposit requirements.
Back in the 70s, when the bottle bill states-- California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Oregon and Vermont-- were passing their laws, the concern was over the massive quantities of soda and beer bottles that were piling up in landfills rather than being melted down and reshaped. Of course, nobody had thought of bottling tap water back then, so water wasn't included in the bottle deposit laws. But today, with Americans drinking and disposing of 30 billion single-serving bottles of water each year, water bottles are a real problem, and a good symbol of our failure to confront relatively easy pieces of the overall environmental problem.
Check out that list of states again, and note that no state has been added to the list since 1982, when New York joined it. Why did Washington never get on board that train?
A few years after New York joined those other states, the District put the bottle deposit question to its voters. In the 1987 referendum, the No campaign, led by major drink companies and can and bottle manufacturers, spent $2.2 million while the proponents of the bill spent $80,000. The bill went down to defeat by a 55-45 margin.
(Maryland, of course, shares the District's demographic similarity to other bottle bill states. Virginia, as always, is a more complicated case because of the enormous demographic, social and political divide between northern Virginia and the rest of the state. An effort to pass a bottle bill in Maryland this year went nowhere.)
The 1987 D.C. campaign on the bottle bill was one of the most fascinating and revealing I've ever covered. At the start of the campaign, polls showed 70 percent support in the city for putting deposits on bottles. But the campaign split the city by race, and in the final tally, whites supported the bill overwhelmingly and blacks opposed it equally powerfully.
The Post's Tom Sherwood wrote after the election that "An industry coalition calling itself the Clean Capital City Committee hired minority consulting firms and dozens of black political operatives to take the anti-deposit message to black neighborhoods, with help from black ministers. The industry group then bombarded the city with negative direct mail, media advertisements and telephone calls, focusing its efforts throughout the campaign on black-oriented newspapers and radio stations."
The anti-bottle bill appeal was part economic--a deposit raises prices, which inner-city blacks could least afford--but was also cleverly and cynically racial--the idea was that the bottle bill somehow was a sign of The Plan, the long-feared white effort to take back control of the District. Bottling industry-sponsored newspaper ads appeared around the city, saying, "You can tell a lot about an issue by who supports it and who opposes it." The ad, as The Post's Ed Bruske and Eric Pianin reported, listed organizations in white neighborhoods as "for" the initiative, including the Citizens Association of Georgetown and the Capitol Hill Gardening Club (strong enough code for you?) Then it listed more than three dozen black leaders and organizations "against" the bottle bill, including the NAACP and Operation PUSH (got the message?)
So would a bottle bill pass today, with a considerably changed racial dynamic and population in the city? Of course many of the same racial antagonisms and suspicions linger, and have perhaps been exacerbated by gentrification and dislocation, but environmental concerns now reach a broader swath of the population as well.
Would it pass now? Should it?
By Marc Fisher |
June 1, 2007; 7:53 AM ET
Previous: D.C. Libraries: Ready for Their Makeover, Yet Stuck in Neutral | Next: Mixed Greens: How the New Nuclear Splits Environmentalists
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: dgc | June 1, 2007 8:22 AM
Posted by: Oh the thought | June 1, 2007 8:31 AM
Posted by: Mike Licht | June 1, 2007 8:33 AM
Posted by: Eric | June 1, 2007 9:38 AM
Posted by: Woodbridge Va | June 1, 2007 9:44 AM
Posted by: kthhken | June 1, 2007 9:50 AM
Posted by: DCer | June 1, 2007 9:50 AM
Posted by: IJM | June 1, 2007 9:51 AM
Posted by: gc | June 1, 2007 9:56 AM
Posted by: Steven | June 1, 2007 10:12 AM
Posted by: dirrtysw | June 1, 2007 10:16 AM
Posted by: tcr25 | June 1, 2007 10:20 AM
Posted by: eo mcmars | June 1, 2007 10:27 AM
Posted by: John Stickerson | June 1, 2007 10:31 AM
Posted by: paul20002 | June 1, 2007 10:34 AM
Posted by: PQ | June 1, 2007 10:37 AM
Posted by: jim | June 1, 2007 10:42 AM
Posted by: OD | June 1, 2007 10:43 AM
Posted by: TheGreenMiles | June 1, 2007 10:45 AM
Posted by: Lance | June 1, 2007 10:45 AM
Posted by: Collin | June 1, 2007 10:53 AM
Posted by: Mr T in DC | June 1, 2007 10:57 AM
Posted by: Steve | June 1, 2007 11:02 AM
Posted by: Josey | June 1, 2007 11:05 AM
Posted by: Johnson | June 1, 2007 11:07 AM
Posted by: Rich Kearns | June 1, 2007 11:17 AM
Posted by: Ryan | June 1, 2007 11:27 AM
Posted by: Kendrick Stepnoski | June 1, 2007 11:33 AM
Posted by: Stu | June 1, 2007 11:38 AM
Posted by: eo mcmars | June 1, 2007 11:40 AM
Posted by: paul20002 | June 1, 2007 11:43 AM
Posted by: shaw | June 1, 2007 11:44 AM
Posted by: DCAustinite | June 1, 2007 11:45 AM
Posted by: T Clarke | June 1, 2007 11:51 AM
Posted by: Anonymous | June 1, 2007 11:59 AM
Posted by: Anonymous | June 1, 2007 12:00 PM
Posted by: Kelly | June 1, 2007 12:07 PM
Posted by: Rich | June 1, 2007 12:23 PM
Posted by: Rich | June 1, 2007 12:28 PM
Posted by: DC Resident | June 1, 2007 12:28 PM
Posted by: Todd | June 1, 2007 12:34 PM
Posted by: ex-NewYorker | June 1, 2007 1:09 PM
Posted by: Ray | June 1, 2007 1:20 PM
Posted by: Tina | June 1, 2007 1:33 PM
Posted by: Collin | June 1, 2007 1:54 PM
Posted by: TheGreenMiles | June 1, 2007 2:06 PM
Posted by: DCAustinite | June 1, 2007 2:11 PM
Posted by: August | June 1, 2007 2:12 PM
Posted by: ep | June 1, 2007 2:19 PM
Posted by: DCAustinite | June 1, 2007 2:54 PM
Posted by: Brian Fish | June 1, 2007 2:55 PM
Posted by: DCer | June 1, 2007 3:12 PM
Posted by: DCer | June 1, 2007 3:14 PM
Posted by: Not a Fisher fan | June 1, 2007 3:23 PM
Posted by: Octavio | June 1, 2007 3:31 PM
Posted by: VAer | June 1, 2007 4:02 PM
Posted by: Chris Tenmission | June 1, 2007 4:04 PM
Posted by: Midwesterner | June 1, 2007 4:05 PM
Posted by: Nicholas Tresteguard | June 1, 2007 4:17 PM
Posted by: ah | June 1, 2007 4:21 PM
Posted by: Henry | June 1, 2007 4:31 PM
Posted by: Henry | June 1, 2007 4:36 PM
Posted by: Josh T. | June 1, 2007 4:49 PM
Posted by: Anonymous | June 1, 2007 5:43 PM
Posted by: kris | June 1, 2007 6:51 PM
Posted by: MDer | June 1, 2007 8:17 PM
Posted by: that guy | June 5, 2007 2:10 PM
The comments to this entry are closed.