March 4, 2008
Bottle bill resurfaces
Broader deposit law would match trends, help environmental programs
When New York’s original bottle bill was enacted, there was not much thought that American consumers would be buying water in bottles. So while consumers were charged a deposit on such things as beer and soft drinks, there was no such requirement for bottled water — or for that matter, juice, iced tea and sports drinks.
Trade in those liquids now is booming, and a discarded water bottle is as much a litter problem as a tossed-aside soda can. So Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer is right in once again including the so-called bigger, better bottle bill in his executive budget proposal.
The tighter match between state law and consumer preferences will benefit the Environmental Protection Fund if, as proponents would like to see, a dedicated source of revenue for the fund is allocated from the deposit revenue stream.
As the New York Public Interest Research Group points out, in the past year there has been a groundswell of awareness about the environmental impact of bottled water — including the energy that is wasted if these bottles are not recycled. By including noncarbonated drinks under the deposit law, New York would add an incentive for increased bottle recycling.
Opponents of a 5-cent deposit on water bottles have maintained that it would be “anti-consumer,” which is a tough argument to make when New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others have been promoting municipal tap water. In terms of safety and water quality, tap water from municipal systems remains — trendy consumerism notwithstanding — the best bet.
As it now stands, beverage companies continue to keep all of the unclaimed bottle deposits, because current law does not say where the nickels should go. The industry sees that as an offset for the cost of collection and recycling, but reform proponents estimate that the tally adds up to at least $2 billion over the past 25 years. Estimates of the annual unclaimed deposits from an updated bill range from $100 million to more than $200 million — money proponents say would go a long way toward helping meet state environmental funding needs.
New Yorkers for Real Recycling Reform, a group opposing the bill, has maintained 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 two-tenths of a percent and would have an adverse effect on other recycling programs in communities around the state. Instead, the group advocates for investment in successful curbside or municipal programs.
But the bottle bill has been successful, and expanding it can build on that success. The Assembly has done its job for the past three years in supporting an updated bill, and the governor has said he’s willing to negotiate compromises.
There are business concerns that should, indeed, be addressed — the need for more storage space, especially in small stores; possible cleanliness problems related to added bottle storage in places that sell food; and the need for new machines that could read different styles of containers. But there are measures in the reform bill that address such issues, and it’s time for the State Senate to weigh in on this issue.