August 20, 2008
Bottle bill brouhaha
|Israel Cota makes his way to a beverage bottle deposit center to cash in on more thatn 1,500 cans he collected from Saratoga Race Course. (RICK GARGIULO/The Saratogian)|
SARATOGA SPRINGS - Discarded water bottles are caught in the middle as local business owners and environmentalists differ in their opinions of a proposed bottle bill.
If adopted, the bill would place a five-cent deposit on bottles containing non-carbonated beverages, such as water and juice, and would take unclaimed deposits - about 30 percent of deposits go unclaimed - and turn them over to a state environmental fund.
"It will add a tremendous amount of cost to consumers, who will have to pay a 5-cent deposit," said Jack Minogue, owner of Minogue's Beverage Center on West Avenue. "We'll need to raise the handling fee, because it's expensive for us to handle and sort the increased number of units."
Minogue also expressed concern that without being allowed to keep the unclaimed deposits to cover the costs of collecting used bottles and cans, distributors would raise prices on their products.
"There will be a huge increase in the number of units coming back, and it will require us to incur an increase in cost," Minogue said.
On the opposite side of the bottle debate, Norreida Reyes, conservation director for the Atlantic Chapter of the Sierra Club, said the organization supports the proposed legislation.
"It will save money in this time of economic crisis, so it makes perfect sense for them to pass it, and we will be lobbying to that effect," she said, adding that she didn't think the transfer of unclaimed deposits to a state-run environmental fund would unduly affect distributors.
"Bottled water hasn't been around that long, but (the distributors) are making huge profits off of something that costs them very little to produce. The loss of revenue can't compare to the profit they're making on those," she said.
Peter Looker, an environmentalist living in Malta who lobbied the state legislature to adopt a new bottle bill for five years, including "giving" former State Sen. Joseph Bruno - a major opponent to the legislation - a couple hundred used water bottles, said the new bill is a small step in the right direction, but falls short of meeting environmental principals.
"It would be ecologically wise to reduce our use of bottles," he said, "The Bigger, Badder Bottle Bill doesn't address that."
Looker said that instead of deposits on more types of bottles, he would like to see a tax on bottled and canned items that reflect the cost of the oil used in their production, and the cost of recycling.
Jim Schanz, owner of the Albany Beverage Company, a beverage distributor based in Schenectady, also said handing over the uncollected deposits would force him to raise prices as well.
"The addition of water bottles will create more work for us," he said.
The state currently pays distributors who collect empty beverage containers a 2-cent fee per unit collected, and the proposed law would raise that rate to 3.5 cents.
Minogue said that one of his greatest concerns about the new law was that it did not apply fairly to all business owners.
"You go into a convenience store and show me where the redemption counter is," he said.
Both Minogue and Schanz said they thought expanding existing curbside recycling programs was a better alternative to expanding deposits.
"With curbside recycling, I'm not sure why we need a bottle bill, if recycling is working the way it's supposed to," Schanz said.
"We have curbside recycling for aluminum, plastic, paper and cardboard. Maybe they should find a way to put the onus for returns on recycling, and beverage retailers," Minogue said. "By doing this, all they're doing is increasing taxation. Somebody has to pay for the recycling, and it will be the consumer."
Still, Minogue added that he supported recycling, but not in its current form.
"I'm not against recycling, but when the onus is put into one segment of the industry, I think that's a little unfair," he said.