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Between the Lines: Bottle Bill Massholes

If Mainers can afford a nickel deposit, why can’t we?

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Last week I spent a few days in central Maine, where I took my golden retriever for some training. While I had a great time with a bunch of my hunting buddies—both the two- and four-legged varieties—I also absorbed an extra dose of the kind of regional hazing that flatlanders can expect whenever they get friendly with the locals.

The worst of it came when I accidentally tossed a plastic water bottle purchased in Massachusetts into a cardboard box at a Maine rod and gun club. A sign on the box asked folks to donate their nickel deposit bottles and cans to benefit the club.

I wasn’t born in Maine; though both sides of my family have been there for hundreds of years, even if I were to take up full-time residency, I’ll never really be a Mainer. That’s OK, because nowadays Maine is filled with people “from away.” In the new, global economy, a lot of the old, popular knocks on out-of-staters and tourists have softened or disappeared altogether.

But one thing hasn’t changed: Mainers still have a native distrust of people from Massachusetts. If anything, the antipathy may be getting worse. It probably has something to do with the vestigial memory that Maine was once part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. As Mainers like to say, Massachusetts used to own Maine and seems to be busy buying the state back—“one piece at a time.” Whether we bring a slew of unrealistic expectations or just our shitty driving habits to Maine, we’ve collectively gained a very poor reputation. Hence the nickname “Massholes.”

That’s just what my buddies called me when I came out of my truck with a handful of empty bottles. Some of them had contained fizzy liquid, the nickel deposit on which can be redeemed in Maine. But a few Poland Springs water bottles had sneaked into my pile. Sadly, each one had its label bordered in bright red, the mark of a non-deposit bottle from Massachusetts.

“Can’t throw that in there, ya Masshole!” And so forth.

With a petition drive underway to get an expanded bottle bill on the 2014 ballot, Bay State lawmakers last week held yet another round of hearings on the idea. The pols have been holding such hearings for decades, but inevitably side with bottlers and retailers, who say the deposit is like a tax.

No, it isn’t. The deposit is 100 percent refundable. And, contrary to industry hype, an expanded bottle bill won’t slow the sales of water and juice any more than it slowed the sale of beer and soda. Nor is this a pet idea of the left. Hell, even my gun-toting, pro-business, big government-bashing buddies from Maine support it.

Let’s not be Massholes. Let’s get in line with the rest of New England and do the right thing. Let’s expand the bottle bill.•

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