March 10, 2007
Bottle bill details need rethinking
We'd like a nickel for every time we thought the state's bottle bill should include more beverages. Recycling is good for the environment and for the economy. And at first glance, we were excited by Gov. Eliot Spitzer's Bigger Better Bottle Bill.
But there needs to be a way to expand the bottle bill without unfairly burdening bottle sellers. Gov. Eliot Spitzer recognizes that while New York's 25-year-old deposit bottle law is ahead of other states, it can and should do better. He has not, however, quite found the way to go.
The new governor's bottle bill would put deposits on many more types of beverages and transfer unclaimed deposits previously kept by beverage distributors to the state Environmental Protection Fund.
Sounds good. But his attempt to help the environment and bolster the fund would make too big a mess for beverage sellers and their customers, which is just about everyone.
Currently, deposits are only on beer and soda bottles. Spitzer's proposal would add bottled water, sports drinks, juice and other non-carbonated beverages.
To get an idea of how that could help the environment, consider this: 80 percent of containers with deposits are returned, while only about 20 percent of non-deposit containers are properly recycled, according to a spokesman from the group Friends of New York's Environment.
The potential to improve recycling is huge.
But stores that sell, collect, track, store and refund containers, returnable bottles will be stuck with too much of the burden as part of their cost of doing business.
Where are sellers supposed to store all these additional bottles? How many more recycling machines will they need, what will they cost to buy and maintain, where will they be placed, and who is going to empty them? It doesn't sound as though Spitzer ever stood in line behind someone at the store, waiting for them to return a cart full of deposit bottles.
The governor needs to rethink his plan to require that beverage companies transfer all unclaimed deposits to the state Environmental Protection Fund. While we love the idea of increasing the fund from $225 million to his projected $325 million, some of that money ought to go to the sellers, to cover their related costs.
Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno has said that the solution is not to require more returnables but to improve curbside recycling programs.
The real solution is somewhere in between the Bruno recommendation and Spitzer's proposal. Putting a deposit on bottles clearly promotes recycling. And the more non-carbonated beverage bottles that are recycled, the better.
Stores that process bottle returns get 2-cents per container as a handling fee, which Spitzer would increase to 3.5 cents. A penny a pop adds up, but that may not be satisfactory compensation.
A more expansive bottle bill would be great if it can do two things: dramatically increase recycling and provide a way for the middleman, beverage sellers, to deal with the flood of returnables.
©The Saratogian 2007