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February 10, 2009

Journal News

Bottle bill update makes sense, cents

When Gov. David Paterson submitted his executive budget in December, five weeks earlier than required, he did so knowing that we are facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. He acknowledged that New York state is facing the largest budget deficit in history, and that scores of difficult decisions will have to be made over the coming months. These challenging times call for both sacrifice and greater efficiency. They also provide for opportunity to make meaningful, common-sense decisions. Perhaps the easiest decision to be made during the next several months is updating New York's 26-year-old bottle return law.

Gov. Paterson has proposed modernizing the 1982 bottle bill to protect New York State's environment - both by helping to reduce litter and other environmental impacts of non-carbonated beverages not covered by current law, and providing funds to continue investing in parks, farmland protection, and river clean-ups in these difficult times.

While the original bottle bill has been an enormously successful environmental-protection measure, reducing roadside litter by 70 percent and increasing recycling rates, it did not cover non-carbonated beverage containers like water, iced tea, and sport drinks because they were a fraction of the market 26 years ago. Today, single-serve bottles of water are the fastest growing beverage choice in the United States, and nearly 2.5 billion bottles of water are sold in New York every year.

Far too many containers not covered by the law end up discarded in our parks, on our beaches and along our trails. In fact, Scenic Hudson found that 61 percent of beverage containers collected in a series of 2002 cleanups along the river were non-deposit.

Furthermore, the modern bottle bill would safeguard the state's Environmental Protection Fund from sharply falling state revenue. The governor's proposal would place all unclaimed deposits in the EPF. Currently, when the nickel deposits on beer or soda containers go unclaimed, the beverage maker retains the 5 cents. With the governor's proposal, the money would be returned to the state, providing a projected $118 million this year for parks, open space, farmland protection, cleaning up lakes and rivers, waste prevention and other environmental programs that are jeopardized by the fiscal crisis.

To ease the impact on consumers and retailers, the governor's proposal increases the handling fee paid to grocery stores and redemption centers from 2 cents to 3.5 cents per container. This increase will help redemption centers grow and expand in New York state, which will encourage small-business development, lift some of the burden of implementing the bottle law from grocery stores and retailers, create more jobs and expand consumers' options for redeeming empty beverage containers.

It's also important to note that environmental benefits go beyond keeping New York's beautiful landscape free of litter. New York's bottle return law has triggered the recycling of 90 billion containers and 6 million tons of glass, aluminum and plastic, the savings of more than 50 million barrels of oil - equal to getting 600,000 cars off the road for one year. The expanded law would save another million barrels of oil, and eliminate thousands of tons of greenhouse gases each and every year, by diverting plastic and metal from the waste stream and using these recycled materials, rather than new materials, in the manufacturing of products. In addition, the law would expand the stream of clean, source-separated recyclables that sustains New York's recycling industry.

I urge the state Legislature to pass Gov. Paterson's modern bottle bill to finally include non-carbonated beverage containers. While there will be many tough decisions to be made in the coming weeks to address our serious economic crisis, updating the bottle bill is an easy one.

The writer is commissioner of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation


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