May 4, 2008
Backers say expanded bottle bill will increase recycling, opponents call it a tax
By Dave Hill
North Tonawanda, NY — While shopping at the North Tonawanda Budwey’s Supermarket on Saturday, Mary Collins and her mother, Betty Collins, both had 24-packs of bottled water in their carts.
Both also had differing opinions on a bill being pushed by some state officials that would add a 5-cent deposit to non-carbonated beverages — everything from juice to bottled water and half-gallons of milk. That means shoppers would pay $1.20 more up front for a 24-pack of water.
“I get sick and tired of hauling these things out to the curb,” said Betty Collins, of North Tonawanda. She said it would be easier to return the bottles at the store and get the deposit refund. Otherwise, “It overflows your recycling bin and then you don’t have any room for the cans.”
Unlike her mother, Mary Collins of Lockport opposes the Bigger Better Bottle Bill, as it is known. “It’s enough hassle with all the bottles and cans from all the soda,” she said, adding that the lines to return the containers would just get longer than they sometimes already are.
Local shoppers aren’t the only ones debating the idea. State lawmakers began battling over the bill six years ago when former Gov. Eliot Spitzer proposed it when he was the state’s attorney general.
Its proponents — including current Gov. David Paterson — say that adding a deposit on water bottles, sports drinks, iced teas and other beverages will increase recycling and save taxpayers money in the process. Its opponents, particularly grocers statewide, call it a tax that will only cost consumers more in the end.
“The bottle bill is for taxation, it’s not for the environment,” said Frank Budwey, owner of Budwey’s Supermarkets in North Tonawanda and Kenmore.
Spitzer had hoped to get the legislation passed so it could be included in the state budget that was adopted last month. That didn’t happen, but Paterson recently backed the bill and has asked the State Legislature to enact it by June 30, when the current legislative session ends.
The expansion of the bottle bill was included in the Assembly’s version of the budget but was not in the Senate’s proposal, said Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, D-Kenmore. “There has been some talk about a scaled down version of this proposal, but so far nothing has emerged,” Schimminger said.
Paterson has said that the bill would reduce the next state budget, largely because the state would receive between $100 million and $150 million from unredeemed deposits, money that is currently kept by the bottlers.
New York’s current law took effect in 1982, long before bottled water and sports drinks gained the large market share they have today, according to the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), which supports the expanded bill. NYPIRG says on its Web site that three billion bottles and cans are littered or thrown in the trash each year, all because consumers don’t recycle them.
“The Bigger Better Bottle Bill will prevent litter and make our communities cleaner,” NYPIRG says on its Web site. It also states that litter surveys the group has conducted statewide reveal that two-thirds of the bottles collected in litter clean-ups are non-deposit containers. “It makes no sense for a bottle of sparkling water to be covered under the bottle bill and a bottle of plain water to end up as pollution,” the group says.
Meanwhile, food retailers across the state — in conjunction with the Food Industry Alliance of New York State — are pushing mightily against the legislation.
“What it’s only going to do is raise the prices to the consumers ... because now all the supermarkets where they go to turn in their bottles are going to have to get newer machines that will accept these odd-sized bottles,” Budwey said. Budwey estimates the machines will cost each store $100,000. “Who’s going to pay for that? Ultimately, it’s the consumer,” he said.
Tops Markets and Wegmans also are opposed to the bottle bill. Tops is against it “primarily because of the significant inconvenience it would place on our customers — specifically, a probable increase in the cost of non-carbonated beverages, along with the impracticality of a much higher number of bottles to bring back to the store, resulting in longer redemption lines,” Tops spokeswoman Katie McKenna said in a statement.
Some Tops stores in the region have set up display tables to educate shoppers on the proposed bottle bill, and the company also attached postcards to employees’ paychecks and asked that they mail the cards to Albany if they oppose the legislation.
Contact reporter David J. Hill
at 693-1000, ext. 115.