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November 23, 200

The Post-Star

Sorting out the bottle bill

Erin Reid Coker Erin Reid Coker - coker@poststar.com A 5 cent deposit appears on a empty bottle of water at It's Your Nickel on Broad Street in Glens Falls on Monday November 16, 2009. On October 31, 2009 bottled water, including flavored or nutritionally enhanced water, which does not contain sugar was added to New York's Returnable Container Act. Jim McMahon, owner of It's Your Nickel says he has seen just over 150 water bottles come in for return over the past few weeks but expects more as people become aware of the refund.

At recycling centers across the state, water bottles are starting to show up in the sea of aluminum, glass and plastic - only now they're worth something.

New York's Better Bottle Bill took effect on Oct. 31, adding a 5-cent deposit for water products as a means of encouraging recycling.

Enforcement of the labeling requirements officially kicked in on Nov. 8, giving retailers and distributors about a week to ensure non-compliant water and flavored water without sugar was moved off their shelves.

Environmental groups have lauded the legislation, saying it will reduce waste.

According to the Container Recycling Institute, more than 3.2 billion water bottles are sold each year in New York. Without a deposit, fewer than 20 percent of these bottles were being recycled.

Opponents argue, however, that the law seeks to balance the state budget on the backs of businesses, namely beverage distributors.

The law increased the handling fee distributors must pay retail outlets and redemption centers to sort recycled bottles and cans for pickup. The fee went from 2 cents per unit to 3.5 cents per unit.

In addition, the law reallocated 80 percent of the unclaimed deposits to the state Department of Tax and Finance, leaving 20 percent with distributors. Previously, distributors kept 100 percent of the unclaimed funds.

The change is expected to produce about $115 million a year in new revenue for the state at a time when Gov. David Paterson is predicting New York will go broke by the year's end.

"The state is taking money out of our pocket to fill their coffers," said Jeff Vukelic, president of Saratoga Eagle Sales & Service, a beverage wholesaler that serves 1,500 retail outlets in six counties.

Vukelic said the deposit money used to fund the company's recycling efforts, such as pickup from the retail outlets and sorting by his employees when stores and restaurants fail to do so.

He declined to say how much of a loss in deposit revenue his business expected from the law. But as a result of the lost deposit revenue and increased handling fee, Saratoga Eagle has had to raise some of its prices.

"Those costs are ultimately passed on to consumers because we're losing sales at the end of the day," he said, adding that the long-term impact could be lost jobs. "The impact of the initial shock of the expanded bottle bill has been a decrease in sales."

After hearing this message from its distributors, Hannaford Supermarkets put up signs telling customers they may see a price increase beyond the new 5-cent deposit, and for more than just water products.

"We have let customers know that there could be impact there," said Michael Norton, a Hannaford spokesman, referring to beverage prices. "If the price goes up more than 5 cents per bottle, it probably relates to two income streams lost to the supplier."

Norton said he assumes water bottle redemption has increased at the stores, but the company didn't have any solid numbers as of last week.

At It's Your Nickel redemption center in Glens Falls, owner Jim McMahon said water bottles were starting to show up among the other recyclables.

McMahon said the majority of people bringing water bottles in now had already been redeeming beer and soda containers.

He expects, though, that the center will see a 30 to 40 percent increase in plastic container volume as new customers start collecting and recycling their water products.

More bottles means more sorting, which could translate to more hours for employees or new hires at It's Your Nickel, McMahon said.

"It'll be a good thing," he said. "Anything that increases business is a good thing."


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