August 11, 2007
Put down the bottle
Since legislators balked on adding water to bottle bill, Spitzer should act
The people who make a lot of money selling bottled water hated the idea of expanding New York's bottle bill to cover water and other noncarbonated beverages, and it didn't fly. Now, here's an idea they won't like either: The state should stop buying or using single-serving bottled water. It's a small symbolic step, but well worth taking.
The proposal comes from Assemb. Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst), chairman of the Environmental Conservation Committee. He supported Gov. Eliot Spitzer's proposal to expand the bottle bill as part of the state budget, then as a separate bill, but it didn't get done. So he has asked Spitzer to issue an executive order to stop state purchases, to an as-yet undetermined extent, as some cities have done.
The most visible problem is the litter. The state's original bottle bill, enacted in 1982, covered carbonated beverages, and those nickel deposits got the vast majority of these containers off the streets and into the recycling stream.
Since then, sales of noncarbonated beverages, such as water, tea and juice, have exploded. Without a deposit on the containers, they end up too often as litter and are too seldom recycled.
If Spitzer takes Sweeney's suggestion, it will send a message to bottlers: If they can't accept a bottle bill to cut litter, the state will try to manage part of the problem by acting to cut into their sales.
It would also send a signal to all New Yorkers about the madness of bottled water. It eats up huge amounts of oil, which is used to make the bottles themselves as well as to fill and ship them. And it costs far more than tap water. In fact, a lot of bottled water, including major brand names such as Aquafina and Dasani, is just that: filtered tap water.
New York and Long Island have safe drinking water. So it's cheaper and more environmentally friendly to use perfectly potable tap water, and make it portable as well, by carrying it in glass, stainless steel or durable plastic bottles. If you don't like the taste, you can always filter it at home first.
We have to slow the trend to bottled water, and Spitzer can take a useful step by following Sweeney's advice.