Tuesday, June 06, 2006

We missed the boat on bottle deposit law

I was walking across Union Square the other day, hot-footing it from the legislature back to the Observer’s office when I saw a fellow waving and shouting from the other side of George Washington’s statue.
The voice sounded familiar – but the last time I heard it was on the floor of the state House of Representatives a decade ago. It belonged to Coach David Diamont, a teacher and football coach at East Surry High School and one of the best legislators during the period when the General Assembly was transformed from an institution with new leadership every few years to a chamber marked by long-term leadership. He had a gaggle of students in tow and was showing them the capital city. If we’d listened to him 30 years ago, we’d be a lot better off.
Diamont served in the House for 20 years, from 1975-1995, rising to chair the House Education Committee and later chair of the powerful Appropriations Committee. Now he was back doing what he really did best – teaching high school kids about their government.
I walked over to chat with them a while about what government does, and had a flashback of a young Rep. Diamont, fighting an uphill battle in the House in 1977 to pass a statewide bottle deposit law. It would have required a returnable deposit on soft drink containers – and it would have kept our roadsides clear of much of the awful load of roadside trash that stacks up every day.
Diamont tried to get his bottle bill passed for years but the soft drink and beer industry kept it from going anywhere. They didn’t want the pain in the neck that would come from having to accept the bottles and cans back and recycle them. Retailers didn’t want to have to pay back the deposits to those who brought the empties in, let alone store the bottles and cans.
And in those days, there weren’t many environmental lobbyists. Bill Holman, now the director of the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, was just about the sole spokesman for the environment in those days, and trying to get something done about roadside trash was no more popular among legislators then than it is now.
The container deposit law went nowhere, and as a result, our roadsides often look like a junkyard. It’s not just bottles and cans, but they’re a lot of it. But it’s not David Diamont’s fault. He had the right idea 30 years ago.


Anonymous said...

Darn you Johnny Cakes!!!

Marty said...

I don't know where you're driving, but we have some of the cleanest roadsides anywhere. And of what trash there is, one sure doesn't find many bottles -- certainly not the glass kind!

Are you proposing a tax on plastic bottles and aluminum cans? Why exempt paper -- that's most of the eyesore.

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