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April 13, 2006

The Post-Standard

Litter Still Piles Up
OCRRA urges state to expand bottle bill

Year after year, Marsha Cornell and her group of volunteers fan out across Syracuse's Eastwood neighborhood to pick up litter for Earth Day. And year after year, piles of litter return to the same neighborhood, the same blocks, the same empty lots.

"We're right next to Henninger High School, so we get a lot of litter," said Cornell, director of Transfiguration Church Neighborhood Watch and organizer of the group's annual cleanup.

"Right now, some parts of Teall Avenue look really trashed," she said. "That's a terrible thing because it's a major entranceway to the city. This is our little corner of the Earth, and we have to keep it clean."

As the neighborhood group prepares for its Earth Day cleanup April 22, Cornell and others are looking for ways to transform the annual event, making it more than an exercise in picking up litter.

The countywide Earth Day cleanup sponsored by the Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency typically attracts more than 6,000 volunteers from about 250 groups. Since starting in 1991, it has grown into what national organizers call one of the largest Earth Day cleanups in the United States.

While nobody questions the success, organizers say it's time to also think about new litter prevention strategies.

Andrew Radin, OCRRA's recycling director, said he sees a tremendous opportunity to prevent litter - an opportunity now sitting on lawmakers' desks in Albany.

"One of the best prevention strategies would be the passage of and updating of the New York bottle bill," Radin said.

A bill sponsored by Assemblyman Thomas P. DiNapoli, a Democrat from Long Island, would expand the 1983 law that requires a nickel deposit on carbonated beverage containers. The new law would require a nickel

deposit on bottles that hold water, iced tea, juices and sport drinks.

"It's clear that there is an abundance of that type of material in our litter," Radin said.

The bill's sponsors say noncarbonated beverages now make up more than 21 percent of beverage sales, with bottled water sales growing faster than any other beverage.

Americans throw away about 30 million plastic water bottles each day, about 90 percent of which is not recycled, according to the Container Recycling Institute.

Litter surveys by the American Littoral Society and Scenic Hudson found such non-deposit containers make up nearly two-thirds of bottles and cans littering New York's shorelines.

The beverage industry, which opposes an expansion of the bottle bill, says the litter problem from beverage containers is not as bad as some maintain.

Kevin Dietly, an environmental consultant in Westford, Mass., who works for the beverage industry, said at least 16 studies in the United States and Canada show noncarbonated drink bottles make up only 1.3 percent of all litter when measured item-by-item, not by volume.

Radin, of OCRRA, said the agency does not have its own litter studies. But he said the problem is clear to volunteers who face the same issue each Earth Day in Onondaga County.

"There are places every year that are commonly covered with litter after the snow melts," Radin said. "Year after year, it seems to be the same areas. I don't know if it's the proximity to certain roadways, traffic patterns or what. But there are definitely areas where the litter always exists."

Dereth Glance, Syracuse program director for Citizens Campaign for the Environment and a member of the OCRRA board, said she has encouraged cleanup volunteers to recycle beverage bottles this year by placing them in a bag separate from trash.

"We think two bags are better one," Glance said. "When people find the water bottles and other noncarbonated beverage containers, they can put them in a separate bag and recycle the bottles in their blue bin."

Cornell, of Transfiguration Church Neighborhood Watch, said she especially likes to see when Henninger students pick up litter as part of a community service requirement. She said the student-based cleanup is also one of the best litter prevention strategies.

"When they've got to pick it up, they think twice," Cornell said.

© 2006 The Post-Standard.

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