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January 21, 2009

The Post-Standard

Bigger, better chance this year for expanded bottle deposit bill

SYRACUSE, NY -- After years of being stalled in the state Legislature, the "Bigger Better Bottle Bill" has its best chance for becoming state law this year, Environmental Conservation Commissioner Pete Grannis said today.

Senate Republicans had been the most staunch opponents of an expanded bottle bill, which would impose a nickel deposit on non-carbonated beverage containers and steer unredeemed deposits to state cleanup programs.

But Democrats now control the Senate, and new Majority Leader Malcolm Smith already has told the governor he supports the bill.

"There's a much more favorable climate in Albany now," Grannis said today during a visit to the State University College of Environmental Science and Forestry. "On every level, a Bigger Better Bottle Bill makes sense. For us, it's a no-brainer."

Passage of the bill would result in bigger bank accounts for New York and its municipalities and better environmental protections for residents, Grannis said.

State officials estimate they could accumulate $119 million a year by collecting unclaimed deposits on water, iced tea and juice containers. Currently, when residents fail to claim deposits on soda and beer bottles, beverage manufacturers keep the revenue.

Instead, money would be directed to the state Environment Protection Fund, a permanent pot dedicated to paying for Earth-friendly initiatives.

"Expanding the bottle bill is about putting public need over corporate greed," said Dereth Glance, of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment. "This revenue must be directed to benefit the people, the environment and the economy of New York state."

Municipalities also would save money under the new law because they'd need fewer workers to pick up discarded bottles that litter local streets and parks. A study by the Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency found that while 80 percent of plastic soda bottles are recycled, only 16 percent of water bottles find their way into blue bins.

OCRRA officials said people need an incentive -- in this case a nickel -- to recycle.

The Bigger Better Bottle Bill would help the environment in even more significant ways, advocates say, by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and saving finite natural resources used in bottle production.

Today, non-carbonated drinks make up one-quarter of all beverage sales. Expanding the bottle bill to include them would remove 2 billion containers from the waste stream each year and save 3.3 million barrels of oil, Grannis said.

The move has wide support in Central New York and around the state. OCRRA already has collected more than 5,000 signatures in favor of an expanded bottle bill.

"I don't think even one more month should pass without having an expansion of the bottle bill," said OCRRA executive director Tom Rhoads, who on Wednesday wore a green fleece made from recycled bottles. "This is a crisis that the governor and Commissioner Grannis have identified that we can fix right now."


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