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November 1, 2009

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

Water bottle deposit begins calmly

As the first stores started implementing New York state's new 5-cent deposit for some bottled water Saturday morning, local retailers said they heard little grumbling from customers.

Bill Harrison of Rochester is among those with a muted reaction to the new law, which requires stores to charge a nickel deposit for all bottles of water that do not contain sugar.

Harrison doesn't think it will be a major adjustment to return a water bottle for a deposit rather than throw it in the recycling bin. He also thinks that it will mean fewer bottles on the street.

"I am always suspicious of the many strategies that Governor Paterson has for raising revenue," Harrison said, "but this one doesn't seem like it will negatively affect anyone's quality of life."

Melissa Jacobs, who was working the cash register at R's Market in Brighton on Saturday, said she hadn't heard many complaints about the change but expected the workday lunch crowd to balk at the increase.

"They come in with exact change in hand," she said of regular bottled water drinkers. "It'll probably throw them for a loop."

She also was concerned with where the Brighton shop would store all the water bottles that get returned.

"People are going to be bringing tons of bottles back now," she said. "I don't know where we're going to put them all."

Keara Hartson, who was working the cash register Saturday morning at Abundance Cooperative Market in Rochester, also said that no one complained.

Until Saturday, New York retailers were expected to collect deposits only on bottles and cans that contain soda and beer. When the original bottle law was passed in 1982, water and noncarbonated drinks represented a small fraction of the drink market. The Department of Environmental Conservation says that noncarbonated water makes up 23 percent of drinks purchased today.

The law enacted Saturday expands the nickel deposit to water bottles of less than a gallon that do not contain sugar. Bottled water distributors are sending out bottles labeled for the new deposit, and retailers have until next Sunday to comply.

Retailers such as R's Market and Hegedorn's and Abundance Cooperative Market started charging the 5-cent deposit for bottles that are appropriately labeled on Saturday. Wegmans and Tops will start charging the deposits next Sunday. Most retailers will be allowing customers to redeem the bottles sold elsewhere with the 5-cent deposit immediately.

"Of course it's going to be more labor-intensive for us," said Debbie Ham, owner of R's Market. "From an environmental point, I can understand why they implemented this, but I wish people were more considerate and did their recycling like they were supposed to."

Ham and other retailers have questioned why flavored water isn't included in the new law.

"That's the big craze right now," she said. "Those are all the things left behind after kids' sports games."

Abundance General Manager Jim DeLuca agrees that flavored water shouldn't be exempt. "It's an odd thing ... I think the law should include all bottled water."

Joseph Stelling, an environmental campaign organizer with the New York State Public Interest Research Group says that his organization would have liked the updated bottle bill to have included iced teas, sports drinks, lemonade and other beverages, but "ultimately that was a compromise forged in the Legislature."

Still, he considers this meaningful progress. "Water is far and away the bulk of the current nondeposit containers," he said.

New Yorkers use 3.2 billion water containers in a year. Including water in the bottle bill coverage "means our deposit law covers approximately 90 percent of the beverage market," Stelling said.

Includes reporting by staff writer Diana Louise Carter.


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