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May 1, 2008

The Post-Journal

Retailers Critical Of Governor’s Deposit Bill
By Robert Rizzuto

 Bottle deposit machines, like these at Wegmans on Fairmount Avenue in West Ellicott, could see a lot more action if Gov. David Paterson’s bottle deposit expansion bill becomes law.

P-J photo by Christopher J. Kinsler

An expansion of the New York bottle deposit bill proposed by Gov. David Paterson is drawing criticism among businesses and retailers who say it would place an unfair burden on their bottom line.

Throughout the state, there is a 5 cent deposit added to the retail cost of carbonated sodas and beer. The proposal would add that deposit price to the retail cost of virtually any beverage less than a gallon that is sold in a can or bottle, including bottled water.

‘‘This has been posed as an environmental policy decision, but the fact is that it is only intended to generate an additional stream of revenue for the state,’’ said John Pierce, spokesman for the lobbying group New Yorkers for Real Recycling Reform. ‘‘The money the state says will be raised is only available if people do not recycle and return these containers to get their deposit back.’’

Pierce said unclaimed deposits now go into the Environmental Protection fund, which is dispersed through community grants across the state.

‘‘Last year there was about $100 million taken from the EPF to balance the (general fund) budget,’’ Pierce said. ‘‘So in order to pay this fund back, the expanded bottle bill would have to rely on even more unclaimed deposits, which means that bottles aren’t being recycled.’’


Differing Ideas

According to Pierce, New Yorkers for Real Recycling Reform is a group organized around the idea that the expanded bottle bill isn’t being presented sincerely by the state, expands an antiquated and failing system, and places an unfair burden on the retailers, distributors and consumers of commercial beverages.

Betty McLaughlin, Container Recycling Institute executive director, does not agree.

‘‘The deposit system has been working for almost 30 years in 11 states, and expanding it would be a great thing,’’ she said. ‘‘It isn’t taxpayer-funded, but paid for by the consumers of the beverages. If you use it, you pay for it.’’

But Pierce said that the expanded bill has the potential to increase the price of individual canned and bottled beverages by 15 cents per unit.

He explained that the additional cost to the consumer is attributed in part to the bottlers and wholesalers paying to maintain the deposit system, since the expanded bill would require additional steps to be taken to try to limit fraud, such as the inclusion of a state bar code.

Pierce said that the current system was easier to implement years ago because soda and beer are bottled and distributed regionally. Juices, teas, and bottled water however, are produced and shipped throughout the country from various areas.

He argued the logistical cost of fragmenting the distribution process to differentiate between states would require additional work on the manufacturers part, leading to an increased price of the product.

Ms. McLaughlin questioned the estimated 15 cent increase and the need for a state-specific bar code.

‘‘Do you really think that when gas is $3.60 a gallon, people are going to come from Pennsylvania with water bottles to try to get a nickel a piece?’’ she said. ‘‘It’s just not going to happen like that.’’


What Is Included?

Pierce said that another reason for an increased cost to consumers is directly linked to the wording of the proposal.

‘‘Under the current system, unredeemed nickels go into funding the system, and (bottlers and wholesalers) pay a two cent handling fee,’’ Pierce said. ‘‘The proposal would increase that handling fee from 2 cents to 31/2 cents as the unredeemed nickels would go to the state, instead of paying for the system.’’

The group Pierce is representing suggests curbside recycling is a better alternative to the expanded bottle bill, as it doesn’t place an increased financial burden on producers or consumers.

‘‘The materials an expanded bottle bill would affect are all recyclable today,’’ Pierce said. ‘‘This was not the case when the original version was passed in 1982.’’

He also argued that the proposed expansion would take money away from municipalities that receive money for selling the recyclables they collect.

Becky Robbins, Jamestown Board of Public Utilities Communications Coordinator, said such legislation has the potential to affect the amount of money generated by the BPU for selling recycled materials.

‘‘The BPU sells all recyclables at a fixed price per ton,’’ she said. ‘‘This protects us against market fluxuations.’’

Ms. McLaughlin said that although the city may lose money, it probably wouldn’t be considerable since most of what would be included in an expanded bottle bill is lightweight, and the recycling program itself costs money to operate.

On the Consumer Recycling Institute’s Web site, the group said bottle bills help remove cumbersome plastic bottles and mixed colored glass, which are typically of low value, from the municipal recycling stream.

Pierce and the New Yorkers for Real Recycling Reform said that an expanded bottle bill would do little to address litter issues, as they said bottles and cans account for less than nine percent of the litter in the state.

Ms. McLaughlin said the expansion would indefinitely help with litter control, as the current bottle bill has done.

‘‘When the financial incentive is out there, it is enough to encourage people to recycle,’’ she said. ‘‘And although an expansion might be difficult to hammer out, California, Hawaii, and Maine have all done it and the beverage industry has survived. And you don’t see as many bottles and cans on the ground because it is like a nickel sitting there.’’

The proposal to expand the bottle bill has come up in recent years, although it was repeatedly blocked by senate Republicans. But Joseph Bruno, Senate majority leader, hinted a couple weeks ago that things might be different this year.

‘‘Some people will say all it does is increase prices, it doesn’t clean up trash, and others say it gets some of the trash out of the landfills and recycled,’’ Bruno said in an April 16 Associated Press interview. ‘‘So it’s one of the issues we have to consider.’’


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