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Packagers Wary of Massachusetts Referendum Putting Legal Wrap On Recycling

October 13, 1992

BOSTON (AP) _ Makers of packaging for everything from boxes of cookies to bottles of detergent are keeping a close watch on Massachusetts, where voters will decide whether to pass a recycling initiative.

If the ballot measure succeeds Nov. 3, Massachusetts will have the nation’s toughest standards for product packages.

″Massachusetts is not just one state,″ said Jeffrey Nedelman, vice president of communications for the Washington, D.C.-based Grocery Manufacturers of America. ″When you look at Massachusetts, you really have to look at all of New England.″

The initiative requires that packaging be reusable at least five times, or use increasing amounts of recycled or recyclable material. By 2002, the packaging must be 50 percent recycled or recyclable.

The proposal exempts special packaging for medications, wrapping required by federal health or safety laws and regulations, and plastic wrap used to prevent food from spoiling.

A similar initiative failed in Oregon in 1990, after opponents stressed consumer health and safety concerns. Opponents raised $2.6 million to defeat the initiative on a 57 percent to 43 percent vote. The legislature later enacted a less stringent law.

California also requires certain products to have recycled material, several states require newspapers to use recycled newsprint, and Maine outlawed single-serving beverage boxes in 1990. But no state law is as comprehensive as the Massachusetts proposal, proponents say.

In Massachusetts, opponents have raised roughly $4 million. Supporters point out that many of the contributors to the opposition are large companies such as Dow Chemical, Exxon, Union Carbide and Proctor & Gamble.

″They’re flooding the airwaves, TV, radio, and they’ve bought ads in almost all the newspapers in the state,″ said Amy Perry, of the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MassPIRG), a consumer and environmental organization that supports the initiative.

Perry said the companies have a vested interest in seeing Question 3 defeated. ″These are the companies that produce virgin packaging,″ she said.

Stephen Allen, of the industry-sponsored ″No on 3 Committee,″ said the companies are contributing because they are concerned about repercussions if the question prevails.

″All of these companies are trying to do business in our state,″ he said. ″Under Question 3, many of their products and the products they contain are going to be banned from Massachusetts.″

MassPIRG estimates that the state generates more than 6.5 million tons of trash every year.

Nedelman said packagers already use recycled materials but are limited by several factors, including the desire to protect products through shipping and on store shelves.

″The general rule is the more recycled material you have in your packaging, the weaker the package becomes,″ he said. ″When somebody goes to the store to buy cookies, they want cookies. They don’t want crumbs.″

Republican Gov. William F. Weld, a fiscal conservative who has introduced proposals for pro-business tax breaks, stands firm in his support for the recycling question despite business opposition. He narrates an advertisement that MassPIRG hopes television stations will air for free.

In the ad, Weld says the initiative ″will help create a whole new recycling industry to process and sell these material.″

Weld then adds: ″To me, that’s pro-environment and pro-business.″

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