June 13, 2007
Expand the bottle bill
Deposit program should account for changes in drinking habits
The 25th anniversary of the state’s bottle bill is coming up on Friday, and there’s no more fitting celebration than for lawmakers to update the law to fit today’s needs.
The Bigger, Better Bottle Bill has been active the past few months, with the governor submitting a program bill to update the Assembly measure, which is starting to stagnate. There’s still time, although it’s running short. Similar to a bill passed by the Assembly in both 2005 and 2006, it has cleared two committees and a floor vote is expected.
Notably, the issue has started to move in the State Senate with a new bill introduced by Sen. Carl Marcellino. The bill, which has cleared the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, would expand the current bottle law, but does not take back the unclaimed deposits.
As supporters of an updated bill contend, some movement is better than none. The Bigger, Better Bottle Bill, sponsored by Sen. Ken LaValle, adds bottled water, iced tea, sports drinks, juice and other noncarbonated beverages with exemptions for wine, liquor, dairy products, infant formula and certain other products. It grants some recognition to the expanded practices of today’s drinking habits.
Current law places a 5-cent refundable deposit only on beer, soda and wine coolers sold in New York. That was long before consumers started chugging all forms of sports drinks and started drinking their water out of a bottle.
The rise in popularity of today’s bottled liquids is evident in marketing campaigns on television, radio and print — and on supermarket shelves. An expanded bottle bill would be beneficial to the environment by eliminating litter and plastic and glass to be recycled.
Businesses complain about the need for more storage space, newer machines that could read different styles of containers and possible cleanliness and odor problems in stores that sell food. These are legitimate concerns, but measures in the bill would offset some of the costs.
The other issue in the Bigger, Better Bottle Bill is its bid to take the unclaimed deposits. The proposal would increase handling fees from 2 cents to 3.5 cents per container. Proponents of the bill would like to see a dedicated source of revenue for the state’s Environmental Protection Fund.
Meanwhile, a group of store owners — New Yorkers for Real Recycling Reform — maintains that the unclaimed deposits now cover only program costs, and that expanding the bottle bill would increase the state’s recycling rate by less than .2 percent while having an adverse effect on other recycling programs in communities around the state.
This group has proposed creating two dedicated funds supported by a broad-based fee, paid by businesses that produce or sell products in New York that are recyclable or may contribute to litter.
There is room for compromise. The Legislature should act promptly.