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April 20, 2008


Best chance yet for a Better Bottle Bill

With New York state desperate for dollars, this could be the year that it gets more of them by focusing on nickels — i.e. the five-cent deposit on beverage containers. Environmentally it has long made sense to extend the current deposit on beer and soda containers to bottled water, sports drinks, ice tea, etc., which too often end up littering our roads and clogging our landfills. The new political dynamics in Albany, coupled with the budget deficit and Wall Street’s woes, offer hope that the Better Bottle Bill will finally win approval this year after six years of trying.

On Lobby Day Tuesday, Gov. David Paterson made a strong statement in support of the bill and said he would fight for its passage this session. That is something his predecessors, including Eliot Spitzer, never did (even though the revenue from unclaimed nickels was included in his budget proposal last year). The Assembly Democrats also say they are prepared to push it harder than they have in the past.

The key, as usual, is the Senate Republicans — more specifically Majority Leader Joe Bruno, who has been dead-set against the expansion before. This time he at least seems less negative, saying it needs to be considered. That may be because he has a good relationship with Paterson and doesn’t want to reject his proposals out of hand, or it could be a recognition that the state really does need money and this is not at all an unreasonable way to raise it. If Bruno truly is open to the idea, a very good case can be made.

First, things have changed since 1982 when the bottle bill was adopted to discourage litter and promote recycling. It has worked beautifully for beer and soda, as people either return containers for the deposit or scavengers do it. But large numbers of water, sports drinks, juice and other containers, which have no deposit, simply get tossed.

The other argument for action is all those unclaimed nickels. The original legislation never said they would stay with distributors of soda and beer, but that’s what has happened, with the industry pocketing about $1.6 billion over 25 years. It is time for the state to get that revenue — which would grow to between $100 million and $200 million if other drink containers were added — and use some of it for deficit reduction and the rest for environmental programs.



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