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February 1, 2009

Rochester Democrat & Chronicle

Improve state's bottle bill

Debate over the "expanded'' bottle recycling bill now before the state Legislature is mostly — and mistakenly — a battle over money in very money-hungry times.

In fact, it's really the continuation of a long-standing fight between lawmakers, grocers and bottlers over who should rake in the millions from unclaimed deposits. Those are containers for which people paid the requisite nickel but are never returned for recycling and a refund.

But, for the public and for posterity, lawmakers should expand the recycling universe —and approve an amended, improved new bottle bill — because plastic, some non-degradable, is choking our landfills and highways.

Plastic recycling is about doing right for the generations to follow ours. It is about looking ahead to a "greener'' New York as much as it is about balancing budgets or fixing the bottom line.

Since the original bottle bill went into effect in 1982, the marketplace has ballooned with designer water and sports drinks.

It is estimated that 25 percent of the drink market is now in non-carbonated items, of which only about 20 percent is recycled. The rest ends up in the garbage or on the roadside.

Unless there is agreement on the environmental purpose, the debate in Albany will devolve again into a fight over dollars. In the past, that has led to the usual two-house partisan stalemate.

This year, with Democrats holding both houses, the money — as much as $100 million — could flow to government, with compromise on deposits scuttled along the way.

Who would end up paying for that? The consumer — as left-out merchants pass down costs to their shoppers.

All should want the cleaner environment an expanded bottle bill means. Only a compromise on deposits will ensure that families will not pay more than their fair share.


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