March 27, 2007
Pass a bigger, better bottle bill
Require deposits on more beverages
As the state's budget negotiations move toward the finish line, amid titanic struggles over medical care and education, the legislature should not ignore Gov. Eliot Spitzer's proposal to expand the state's bottle bill and use some of the revenue to increase the Environmental Protection Fund.
When it passed in 1982, the state's bottle bill was limited to carbonated beverages. It used the power of the market to remove litter from the roads, with the incentive of the nickel deposit to persuade people to return cans and bottles.
Since then, the sales of containers not covered by the law - mostly bottled water, juice and tea - have exploded. For years, supporters of the "Bigger Better Bottle Bill" have been pushing for deposits on these containers too, which make up a large part of today's litter problem. Food retailers and beverage manufacturers have fought the expansion.
Some argue that the rise of municipal curbside recycling renders the bottle bill obsolete. Yes, there's a need to strengthen these municipal programs, but they won't solve the problem of litter created by the water bottles, which are mostly used - and discarded - away from home. The way to cut the new litter is to use the system that reduced the old litter. That system can handle most of the new containers, and there's a robust market for the recycled materials.
The bill would increase the handling fee paid to retailers from 2 to 3.5 cents, to defray recycling costs. It would also enable the state to recover from beverage makers the nickels they now keep when people fail to recycle.
Spitzer wants to use some of that revenue to increase the Environmental Protection Fund by $25 million this year, to $250 million. Among other things, the fund is used for land preservation and ocean conservation, both crucial issues here on Long Island. The Senate has blocked action for too long. It's time to expand the bottle bill, in the context of this budget.