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November 3, 2009

The Journal News

Local consumers divided over new water bottle deposit

You can add bottled water to your bin of redeemable containers now that a new state law has gone into effect requiring a nickel deposit at the checkout counter.

The controversial move to expand bottle deposits beyond beer and soda has survived court challenges and industry protests since passing earlier this year as part of the state budget. Some stores began charging the extra nickel over the weekend, and all must comply by Sunday.

In the Lower Hudson Valley, supporters are praising the updated version of the 1982 Bottle Bill as an overdue step to protect the environment. Opponents, however, say it amounts to a money grab from the state that will ultimately raise costs for consumers.

"You know who's getting hammered is the end user," said Vern Hunter, who is in charge of the redemption center at Cable Beverages in Bardonia. "In this poor economic environment, I feel bad for the end user."

Water continues to mean big business for retailers, even as the environmental consequences grow in the public's consciousness. Environmental groups estimate that 3.2 billion bottles of water are sold each year in New York, with fewer than 20 percent being recycled.

At Stew Leonard's in Yonkers, for instance, more than 1,000 cases of water are sold each week, store manager Tom Arthur said. He said that he does not anticipate any problems with the new law and that customers are used to the company's push toward greater sustainability. There might even be a sale or two to get rid of any bottles that don't yet have the required deposit code.

"I think they're pretty much in tune to what we're trying to do here," Arthur said. "So I don't think they will be bothered by this at all."

Eighty percent of any unclaimed deposits under the new law will be transferred to the state, bringing in about $36 million a year in new revenue for the general fund. An original version of the bill called for the money to go into the Environmental Protection Fund, which pays for land acquisitions, revitalizations, zoos and farm preservation. Formerly, distributors claimed this money.

It's estimated that more than 2 billion bottles could be recycled as a result of the new law.

Adding two cases of bottled water to her cart at Stew Leonard's yesterday, Karen Bishop said she sees the benefits of recycling but worries that the extra cost will add up. Bottled water has become a part of her life, though, making it difficult to do without.

"The recycling, it's for a good cause, absolutely. But this recession, everything is costing us money, money, money," said Bishop, a retired billing clerk from the Bronx.

"I think maybe they should hold out maybe a little bit longer, when we're in a better position. ... But for now, I think it's a bit much," she said.

The updated law includes all bottled water, including flavored or nutritionally enhanced waters that do not contain sugar. Mineral water, soda water and sparkling water were already subject to the deposit under previous regulations.

Proponents originally pushed for other noncarbonated beverages - such as sports drinks, energy drinks, sugared waters and teas - to be included in the law.

Hanita Schneiderman, who had just redeemed her deposits on soda bottles and cans Monday before shopping at Stew Leonard's, said it was about time the state included water bottles in the law. She said she uses refillable bottles but has teenagers who grab disposable water bottles when on the go.

The extra money being tacked on to the water bottles doesn't bother her in the least, the New Rochelle resident said.

"You're getting it back, anyway," said Schneiderman, who works in technology sales.

"If you're not smart enough to return the bottles," she said, "then shame on you."


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