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November 25, 2009

Bennington Banner

Bottle bill a revenue boon for New York

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Check those receipts when you buy a 12- or 24-pack of water -- it’s actually a little bit more expensive than first thought. But consumers can get their money back in the long run.

New York state’s "Bigger Better Bottle Bill" recently went into effect, and it’s a big environmental victory for supporters. The bill mandates an extra 5-cent charge on water containers less than a gallon in size, a change that could net New York state $100 million or more in extra revenue from unclaimed deposits.

The new, expanded law, which requires the 5-cent deposit on water containers, also added a provision for beverage companies to require them to send back 80 percent of unclaimed deposits to the state for use in the general fund.

Now, 90 percent of all containers -- including water, soda, beer and wine coolers -- are counted in New York’s deposit system.

Teas, juices, sports drinks, sugared waters and other noncarbonated beverages were not included in the expanded bottle bill.

"When the original bottle bill went into effect back in 1982, there was a 70 percent reduction in roadside litter," said Maureen Wren, a Department of Environmental Conservation spokeswoman. "Water bottles were nearly non-existent back then, but we expect to see the same amount of redemption for those."

Recycling rates for water bottles now are only 14 percent, and according to Laura Haight, a senior environmental associate with the New

York Public Interest Research Group, if that number reaches 77 percent, the current recycling rate for beer or soda containers, New York state could keep 81,000 tons of refuse out of the landfill and save enough energy to light 43,660 households for a year.

Haight, a member of NYPIRG for the past 10 years, said she has noticed a change in redeeming rates. "People accepted it pretty quickly," Haight said. "It wasn’t the big problem many thought it would be. It was really a giant shrug."

The campaign for the expanded bill started in 2002, and despite opposition from major groups through nearly seven years, the law was signed by Gov. David Paterson on April 22, 2009. "It was a huge victory for us, but there’s still a lot of work to be done," Haight said.

After a court challenge during the summer by water company Nestle and the International Bottled Water Association concerning a state-specific UPC code, the law was delayed for months before a compromise was struck, requiring suppliers to make special labels with the 5-cent sign on them, but not the state-specific bar code.

Stores were also given a week-long "grace period" until Nov. 8 to sell the rest of the non-labeled water, but Wayne Hosler, the manager at Grand Union Family Markets store in Hoosick Falls, said the transition in his store has been seamless.

"We knew we had to get rid of the old (bottles), and the vendors took them out," Hosler said. "Some places, like Poland Spring, were actually ahead of the curve."

Hosler said that the transition with the new bottles has been mostly seamless, because stores like the Northeast chain were warned well ahead of time.

Another concern, especially locally, with Hoosick Falls at the corner of three states, would be people trying to redeem Vermont or Massachusetts bottles in New York stores.

Grand Union uses electronic bottle returners, similar to those at Price Chopper or Hannaford markets, and Hosler said the machines are programmed to take only New York bottles. "If they are Vermont or Massachusetts bottles, they won’t go through the machine," Hosler said.

Haight said that the new labels are part of an anti-fraud campaign to make sure redeeming other states’ bottles in New York doesn’t happen.

"It was part of the legal discussion," Haight said. "We couldn’t get the state-specific bar code, so this was the compromise. It’s illegal on any scale, but it can be difficult to enforce."

Stores that don’t adhere to the new law can be fined, Wren said.

The new law has caused a slight dip in water sales, Hosler said "A 24-pack used to be $3.99, but now it’s $5.99, so people aren’t buying as much," Hosler said. "The cost is going back to the consumer."

Other New England states have added water bottle provisions, including Maine and Connecticut.

In a recent press release, many environmental groups praised the decision. Ethan Winter, the New York Conservation Manager for the Land Trust Alliance, said the bill is the right thing to do.

"It will reduce municipal costs, generate revenue for the state, save taxpayers money, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce litter in the parks, beaches and special places New Yorkers love," Winter said.


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