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February 10, 2009

Albany Times Union

A big push for bigger bottle bill
Coalition makes case for governor's proposal to expand the deposit law

ALBANY — Why should a nickel deposit be attached to one drink but not another when the only difference between the two is that one might make you burp?

A coalition of environmental groups, small-business representatives and community organizations came together Monday at the Capitol to call for passage of the "Bigger Better Bottle Bill," which would expand the state's current 5-cent deposit on beer, soda and wine coolers to cover noncarbonated, nonalcoholic beverages such as sports drinks and bottled water.

The news conference was prompted by the release of a report from the Container Recycling Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, that analyzed 2006 sales figures in New York state. The study found the bill would essentially expand by more than one-third the number of bottles and cans covered under the current law: In 2006, 8.9 billion containers of carbonated beverages were sold, along with 4.6 billion noncarbonated drinks that would be covered under the expanded law.

The report found that between 2002 and 2006, noncarbonated beverages grew from 22 percent of the state's beverage market (excluding wine and liquor) to 34 percent — even as beverage container recycling rates fell nationwide.

Assemblyman Bob Sweeney, D-Suffolk, who chairs the chamber's Environmental Conservation Committee, said that when the original bottle bill was passed in 1982, "no one could have envisioned the growth" in noncarbonated beverage sales. State Sen. Antoine Thompson, the new chairman of the Senate Conservation Committee, endorsed the plan but noted that his conference had yet to examine the legislation in detail.

The expanded bill, part of Gov. David Paterson's budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins in April, would require the beverage distributors to transfer unclaimed deposits — the 5 cents attached to a bottle or can that is not returned — to the state's Environmental Protection Fund, making the bottle bill the primary revenue source for the fund. The governor's plan counts on projected revenues of $118 million from that move in the next fiscal year, although the CRI report suggests the sum could be as high as $218 million.

The assembled advocates placed a large caveat on the idea of making the EPF dependent on deposit funds, arguing that any additional money should supplement and not replace dependable state support.

New Yorkers for Real Recycling Reform, a group representing the beverage distributors and retailers, says the plan would add a dime to the cost of the average beverage — on top of the nickel deposit — without generating anything approaching the amount sufficient to keep the EPF viable.

The industry coalition advocates for an expansion of the state's current recycling practices, including better curbside service by municipalities.


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