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June 18, 2008

Democrat and Chronicle

Urge N.Y. Senate to deliver 'Bigger Better Bottle Bill'

The state Assembly's passage of the Bigger Better Bottle Bill this month is a necessary and important step for citizens and our environment. But the bigger hurdle will be its passage in the Senate before the end of this legislative session.

New York passed the original bottle bill in 1982. It reduced litter by requiring a 5-cent returnable deposit on beer and carbonated beverage containers, encouraging the return of empty ones. Almost immediately after its implementation, total litter rates dropped by 30 percent and beverage container litter by 70 percent. Since then, New Yorkers have redeemed and recycled more than 90 billion containers or more than 6 million tons of recycled material.

Now, bottled water, iced tea, juice and other noncarbonated beverages make up about 25 percent of beverage sales, representing about two-thirds of beverage container litter or about 10 percent of total litter volume. If these containers were recycled, we'd cut oil consumption by about 3.3 million barrels per year, as petroleum is used to manufacture these containers. And we'd eliminate 281,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions yearly.

Since 2002, an updated bill, the Bigger Better Bottle Bill, has been in the works but been "bottled up" in Albany. The new bill would expand the 5-cent returnable deposit to noncarbonated beverages to match current consumption patterns. It would also redirect unclaimed deposits to the state's Environmental Protection Fund to support agricultural and environmental projects, including recycling. Currently, bottlers and beverage distributors keep unclaimed deposits.

In a 2004 survey, 70 percent of New Yorkers supported an expanded bottle bill. Since then, that figure has increased as public awareness has risen. So why has the new bottle bill stalled in the state Legislature?

  • Corporate lobbyists: Large grocers associations, Coke and Pepsi, can manufacturers and others contributed more than $1.2 million in 2004 to state legislators' campaigns; public interest groups (nonprofits) contributed nothing.
  • Some favor curbside recycling. In most communities, curbside recycling is already an option, but less than 20 percent of nondeposit bottles end up in recycling bins. Plus, thirst-quenchers like bottled water and sports drinks are typically consumed and discarded away from home.
  • Small grocers say that the 5 additional cents would lower sales. However, beer and soda sales have grown, not suffered, since 1982's original bill.
Given the success of the original bottle bill, it should be a no-brainer to update it with the times. It will decrease litter greatly, provide cheaper recycled manufacturing materials, reduce the demand for oil, cut greenhouse gas emissions, and provide more than $140 million yearly for agricultural and environmental projects. All at no cost to the consumer.

Fedele, of Victor, is on the executive committee of the Rochester Regional Group of the Sierra Club.


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