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February 19, 2007

The Daily Star

Spitzer: No fizz shouldn’t mean no deposit
By Jake Palmateer

ONEONTA _ Eliot Spitzer has been trying to reform the state’s beverage container deposit law since 2002, when he was state attorney general.

Now, as governor, he is banking on it.

Many of the beverages available today such as bottled water, iced tea and sports drinks weren’t around then or were not as popular, said Helen McLean, of Franklin, as she returned a small cartload of soda bottles with Bill Gruber, also of Franklin.

Gruber said he would like to see the deposit system expanded.

After all, he said, the same containers used for some beverages that have a deposit are used for other beverages that don’t.

"At the very least, I would rather it be consistent," Gruber said.

The legislation, which has passed the Assembly for the last several years but died in the Senate, would also send a portion of unclaimed deposits _ estimated by Spitzer to be $25 million _ to the state’s Environmental Protection Fund.

Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, R-Brunswick, has called the Bigger, Better, Bottle Bill a new tax on consumers.

New Yorkers for Real Recycling Reform, a coalition of state grocers, labor groups and other businesses, is against the proposal and said more funding should be dedicated to other recycling reform.

A Siena Research Institute Poll commissioned by the group and the Food Industry Alliance of New York State found only a third of respondents were in favor of expanding the bottle deposit system.

"New Yorkers support recycling initiatives and want to do their part to help our environment," said James Rogers, president and CEO of the Food Industry Alliance of New York State, in a news release.

"However, they are already seeing through Governor Spitzer’s bottle tax and are recognizing that it will increase their costs and make recycling more difficult and less efficient," he added.

The same news release said a 15 cents-per-container increase would result if the deposit system was expanded, and this cost would be passed to the consumer.

But Gruber said he didn’t think the cost of implementing it would have a great effect on consumers and the 15-cent increase is probably overstated.

"My own feeling is it won’t cost 15 cents," he said.

Gruber said he understands why some people might be against it.

"I feel sorry for people who have small stores or living spaces," Gruber said.

Duncan Davie, a legislative aide to state Sen. James L. Seward, R-Milford, said the senator has not had a chance to vote on reforming the beverage- container law.

"The bill has never come to the Senate floor," Davie said, explaining the legislation never made it out of committee.

But Davie said Seward does have several concerns about it.

"His concerns primarily relate to small businesses," Davie said.

One of these is space, he said.

"You live in Oneonta, you think of Hannaford and Price Chopper," Davie said.

But in smaller communities, sometimes all that there is a corner grocery store or a Big M-size grocery store, Davie said.

With storing more used beverage containers comes an increased risk for animal or pest infestation and damage, he added.

Davie said there could also be a chance that existing recycling programs will be damaged if the focus for many recyclables shifts to a deposit system.

"What happens to the recycling programs that you have in existence?" he asked.

New York is one of 11 states with bottle-redemption laws and has a 29.8 percent rate of abandoned deposits, according to the Container Recycling Institute.

In 2000, this translated into $84.7 million that went back to bottlers and distributors, according to CRI.

In 2002, Spitzer joined with a group of Assembly members who first introduced a comprehensive bill to change the state’s bottle-deposit law and redirect unclaimed deposits to Albany.

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