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February 7, 2007

New York's bottle law merits expansion

Gov. Eliot Spitzer was elected with a strong voter mandate to bring about sweeping changes to Albany.

But, in some ways, progress can be found one nickel at a time. In his recently released budget, Spitzer called for an expansion of the “bottle bill,” the highly successful initiative that requires 5-cent deposits on beer and soda containers, mainly to encourage recycling efforts. The bottle law has worked. The overwhelming majority of bottles are recycled, either by the people directly using the products or by the countless organizations and civic groups that take part in cleanups along New York’s roadsides and shorelines. In fact, more than 5 million tons of materials have been recycled, with consumers returning more than 90 billion beverage containers during the 25 years the law has been in existence.

Nevertheless, the state is working with an outdated model. That’s because other forms of drinks — particularly bottled water, iced teas and high-energy beverages— have become more popular over time, but there are no deposits on these bottles. That means they end up in landfills, not recycling bins. These beverages now make up about 25 percent of the industry.

The governor wants to expand the program to include these beverages and make other changes to raise state revenues. As is, grocers get a handling fee of 2 cents per container; bottling companies retain the unclaimed deposits on beer and soda and wine coolers. Under the proposal, retailers and redemption centers would keep 3.5 cents to help defray the costs of running recycling programs, but unclaimed nickel deposits would go to New York, which is how a number of states handle this issue. The money would go to help increase the Environmental Protection Fund which, in part, enables the state to save valuable farmland from development.

The beverage industry, a powerful lobbying force in Albany, is against the changes, believing, unreasonably, it is entitled to the financial windfall from the unclaimed deposits, and state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno continues to oppose the idea as well. Spitzer, state Assembly leaders, environmental groups and the public at large should put the pressure on Bruno to make this important concession. The environmental benefits are worth it. The bottle law should be expanded.


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