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February 27, 2008

The Ithaca Journal .com

State seeks compromise on bottle deposits
By Joseph Spector

ALBANY — After failing last year to persuade the state Legislature to add a 5-cent deposit on water and juice bottles, the Spitzer administration signaled Tuesday it would be open to a compromise deal, such as requiring deposits only on water bottles or splitting revenues with bottlers.

Gov. Eliot Spitzer resubmitted legislation as part of the 2008-09 budget proposal to require a 5-cent deposit on non-carbonated drinks. The state hopes to guzzle about $25 million in additional revenue if the measure took effect Jan. 1, 2009.

But the idea fizzled last year as the Republican-controlled Senate and grocers opposed the legislation, largely because the state would reap the revenue from the new deposits and not the bottlers.

Currently, bottlers keep the 5-cent deposit that is charged when a consumer buys soft drinks or beer. If the customer returns the bottle or can, the customer gets the money back. Seeing that the proposal faces another uphill battle this year, Judith Enck, Spitzer's deputy secretary for environment, said Tuesday that the administration is willing to consider a compromise.

She said the bill could be altered so the state receives only a portion of the deposit revenue or puts deposits only on water bottles, not other non-carbonated drinks.

“There are definitely ways to find responsible compromises involving who keeps the unclaimed deposits, involving which containers are covered by the deposit system,” she said.

New York consumers pay about $260 million a year in deposits, but about one-third of the deposits are never redeemed.

The state estimates it could receive in future years about $100 million annually from unclaimed bottle deposits. The money would be used for environmental projects.

Environmental groups rallied in support of the bill Tuesday, saying the state has not addressed the recycling issues associated with the growing popularity of non-carbonated drinks. Bottled water, juice and sports drinks make up about a quarter of the beverage market, and more than two billion containers of the drinks are consumed in New York every year, according to the New York Public Interest Research Group.

“Whether they are bubbles or there aren't bubbles, the bottles are the same, and they are damaging our environment in the same way,” Lt. Gov. David Paterson told the groups.

Less than a half-dozen states, including Hawaii, California and Maine, require deposits on non-carbonated drinks.

A New York law passed in June 1982 requires a nickel deposit for every container of beer or soda purchased. According to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, 74 percent of the containers are returned, which advocates say has led to major reductions in litter.

But Senate Environmental Conservation Committee Chairman Carl Marcellino, R-Nassau County, said he still opposes the current legislation. He said he has not had conversations with the Spitzer administration about a compromise, claiming that last year Spitzer seemed inflexible on the issue.

Marcellino contended that the state isn't interested in helping the environment, but instead wants to add another tax on consumers and take away revenue from businesses. He said he supports a deposit on water bottles, so long as the unclaimed deposits go back to bottlers — who take on the cost of receiving the returned bottles.

“They don't want you to redeem the bottles,” he said of the state. “They are counting on the nickels, and therefore they get money to do whatever they want to do. It's just another way to raise a buck on the back of a consumer.”

“And I don't think this is the time economically that we should be taking more money out of people's pockets,” he said.

Laura Haight, senior environmental associate with NYPIRG, said the group would be amenable to a compromise if the Senate gets onboard.

“We're open to compromise, but there's no sense compromising with ourselves,” she said.


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