November 14, 2008
State budget woes: Help from the Bottle Bill
In "extended reading," Laura Haight of NYPIRG makes the case for why an expanded bottle bill could help with the state's budget crisis.
Seems as if it's an inevitability, now that the state Senate has flipped, but there's still a lot of lobbying money up against it.
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Amidst an array of painful and often devastating proposed budget cuts, there is at least one spark of hope. The Bigger Better Bottle Bill is one of the few revenue-generating measures that Governor Paterson has proposed for the upcoming session. For years, this proposal has been blocked by powerful special interests in Albany. We hope you will join us in calling on state lawmakers to finally adopt this commonsense measure.
Supporters of the BBBB have laid out a compelling case for updating New York's bottle law on its environmental merits. With non-carbonated beverages like bottled water and sports drinks now comprising 1/3 of New York's beverage market, it makes no sense not to include them in the 5-cent deposit law, which continues to be New York's most effective recycling and litter prevention program.
But it may turn out that the current economic crisis will be what it takes to get law-makers to finally approve it. It would be the height of irresponsibility for the politicians in Albany to cut funding for education, health care, environmental protection, and other critically needed programs, while letting companies like Coke, Pepsi and Anheuser-Busch continue to pocket the public's unclaimed deposits.
Most New Yorkers don't know what happens to their nickel deposits when they don't return their empty soda and beer bottles. When polled, only 19% correctly answered that the beverage companies keep them. But once educated, a whopping 86% supported transferring these monies to the state to fund environmental programs.
And this is not chump change. The Governor's budget projects that the unclaimed deposits on an expanded bottle bill would add up to $118 million a year. But this is a very conservative estimate. The Container Recycling Institute estimates that beverage companies are currently keeping more than $144 million a year in unclaimed deposits under New York's existing law, and this would increase to $218 million a year if the law were updated to include bottled water, iced tea and other noncarbonated beverages.
Below is an excerpt from testimony that NYPIRG will be presenting today before the Assembly Ways and Means Committee on the economic crisis and its impact on the New York State budget:
NYPIRG urges state lawmakers to support the Governor's plan to update New York's bottle law. Given the state's looming budget shortfall, the state needs to collect from the beverage industry the unclaimed nickel deposits from unreturned bottles and cans.
According to the Container Recycling Institute, in 2006 beverage companies kept more than $144 million in unclaimed deposits under New York's current bottle law. This figure would increase to $218 million a year if the law were updated to include bottled water, iced tea and other noncarbonated beverages.
The current law does not entitle bottlers and distributors to keep the unclaimed deposits. In fact, the law is silent on this issue. It is time for state lawmakers to close the loophole in the law which has allowed bottlers and distributors to keep more than $2 billion in unclaimed nickel deposits from unreturned bottles and cans over the past 25 years.
New York is out of step with other states, such as Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, and Hawaii, which require these unclaimed container deposits to be transferred to the state, generally to fund environmental programs. There is well-established legal precedent in these other states to recover the unclaimed deposits through escheat.
It is important to note that this is not a tax. Unlike a tax, the 5-cent deposit on beverage containers is fully refundable. On average, 73% of the bottles and cans with a nickel deposit have been returned and their deposits refunded over the past 25 years, making the bottle bill by far New York's most effective recycling program. Environmental advocates would be thrilled if the return rate were even higher. But however high the return rate is, there is no compelling reason why the remaining unclaimed deposits should enrich the beverage companies. This is the public's money, forfeited one nickel at a time, and should be reclaimed and used for the public's benefit. When polled, 86% of New Yorkers supported transferring this money to the state to fund environmental programs.
It would be the height of irresponsibility for the Legislature to cut funding for education, health care, environmental protection, and other critically-needed programs, while letting companies like Coke, Pepsi and Anheuser-Busch continue to pocket the public's unclaimed deposits. The Assembly has passed the Bigger Better Bottle Bill three times over the past four years, and each of these votes was a difficult one due to intense opposition from industry lobbyists. We believe the current economic climate makes the arguments in favor of this legislation more compelling than ever before. The environmental benefits of updating the bottle bill to include water bottles and other noncarbonated beverages are well documented, and there is tremendous public support for this measure. Add to that potential revenue in excess of $218 million a year, and all we can say to legislators is "what are you waiting for?" It's time to make this bill a reality.
Senior Environmental Associate
New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG)