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January 22, 2009

Rochester Democrat & Chronicle

5¢ deposits on more bottles likely

ALBANY — A key Senate Democrat is backing the expansion of the bottle bill, which most likely means that before the summer, New Yorkers will be paying nickel deposits on water, juice and sports-drink cans and bottles as well as on the beer and soda containers they're paying now.

"I'm supportive of it," said state Sen. Antoine Thompson, D-Buffalo, the new Environmental Conservation Committee chairman. "This is a step we need to take."

Grocers in the Rochester area are not happy with the plan. Sue Wade, owner of Wade's Market on Route 96 in Victor, said the expanded bill would be a hardship on all food stores.

"This has been strongly opposed by the grocery industry," said Wade, who favored an expanded curbside recycling program. "The enormity will be huge for anyone in the grocery industry. There will be a lot more volume. It's going to cost us more in labor and everything else."

Dave Breen, owner of Herrema's Food Market on Pattonwood Drive in Irondequoit, said it makes no sense to have often-dirty bottles and cans returned to stores that sell food. Breen said finding space to handle recyclable goods in a small store — his is about 20,000 square feet — is a problem.

"We'll deal with whatever the law is," he said. "We have a roll-off Dumpster where we store the materials. But this store wasn't built to handle a system this extensive. To retrofit an existing store like this is extremely difficult."

Expanding the 27-year-old bottle bill that now covers just beer and soda containers has been blocked for the last few years by Senate Republicans, who lost their majority in November. Passing the bottle-bill expansion could be the first significant policy shift caused by the flip in control of the Senate to the Democrats this year.

The expansion passed the Democrat-run Assembly last year, and this year Gov. David Paterson included it as part of his budget proposal. He is counting on the state getting $118 million in additional unclaimed deposits as lawmakers grapple with how to close a $15.4 billion budget deficit.

Jo Natale, a spokeswoman for Wegmans Food Markets Inc., referred calls on the matter to the Food Industry Alliance in Albany, which referred calls to Jon Pierce, a spokesman for New Yorkers for Real Recycling Reform. Pierce said an expanded bottle-deposit law would result in higher prices for consumers, make recycling efforts more difficult and do little to improve the environment.

"New York state is going to increase the number of deposits and keep all the unclaimed deposits for itself," Pierce said. "The state wants to increase the mandates and remove all of the funding for recycling programs. It's a hidden tax. And this will force New Yorkers to take things out of their recycling bins and haul them back to stores, which makes it less convenient."

Natale said Wegmans stores in New York redeemed more than 200 million containers in 2008, more than the grocery chain sold. She would not say how many containers Wegmans sold.

Officials with Rochester-area school districts said they did not know what kind of impact the expanded plan would have. Lee Steinfeldt, a spokeswoman for the East Irondequoit Central School District, said the district has eliminated soda machines and sells just juice, milk and sports drinks.

"If they need to be recycled, we'll certainly recycle them," Steinfeldt said. "We certainly support 'green' initiatives, if that's the goal of this."

The Greece Central School District, starting this year, no longer sells regular soft drinks, but still sells diet soda, juices and bottled water, among other drinks, said spokeswoman Laurel Heiden. A spokeswoman from the Rush-Henrietta school district declined to comment.

There's no guarantee that the bill will pass, however — even with the support of Thompson. And a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, D-Queens, said the leader hasn't taken a position on it yet.

State Environmental Conservation Commissioner Pete Grannis said Wednesday that enacting the bottle-bill expansion may be the easiest decision lawmakers have to make.

"As Gov. Paterson has made clear, New York is facing a staggering budget deficit and must make many hard choices," Grannis said at a news conference in Syracuse. And expansion of the law is "long overdue."

According to Grannis' Environmental Conservation Department, since the original bottle bill was enacted in 1982, roadside litter has been reduced by 70 percent.

More than 90 billion containers and 6 million tons of glass, aluminum and plastic have been recycled, resulting in saving more than 50 million barrels of oil and eliminating 5 million metric tons of greenhouse gases — the equivalent of getting 600,000 cars off the road for one year.


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