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February 12, 2009

Gotham Gazette

Bottle Bill Battle Broiling

Laura Haight walked around with two clear plastic bags filled with empty plastic bottles to make a point. In one bag, there were 148 bottles representing the number of non-carbonated drinks New Yorkers knock back every second. The other held 24, which represents how many of the first bag get recycled (16 percent). [Note: It actually took three bags.]

Haight, who works for NYPIRG, was joined by a coalition of environmental groups in Albany yesterday to highlight a new report and to push for an expansion of the state’s bottle deposit law.

The report they released found that non-carbonated drinks rose from 22 percent of the states beverage market in 2002 to 34 percent in 2006. The bill they are pushing for — the Bigger Better Bottle Bill — would expand the 5-cent deposit law to cover non-carbonated beverages. It would also would redirect unclaimed deposits to the state, rather than allowing retailers to keep them as is currently the case.

The coalition was also joined by the Empire State Beer Distributors Association, who has supported the expansion since 1983.

According to the coalition’s estimates, the $144 million of unclaimed deposits in 2006 would have been $218 million under an expanded bottle law. The governor’s office, which supports the expansion, estimates a smaller recovery, saying the expansion would bring in $118 million next year.

Financially struggling states around the country are seeing the logic of bottle bills. And late last month, the future looked bright for the expansion of New York’s deposit law.

The Democrats were freshly in charge of the State Senate, and the new chair of the Environmental Conservation Committee, Antonie Thompson, said he supported the expansion. “This is a step we need to take,” Albany Watch quoted him as saying.

And Pete Grannis, head of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, called passage of the expanded bottle bill a “no brainer.”

“As Governor Paterson has made clear, New York is facing a staggering budget deficit and must make many hard choices. But updating New York’s 27-year-old bottle bill is not one of them,” Grannis said in a statement.

But Albany is still Albany and things still come down to three men in a room. “As long-time advocates know, support from [Senate] Majority Leader Malcolm Smith will be a clearer indication of how high a priority this issue will be given,” wrote Joshua Klainberg on the League of Conservation Voters blog.

And Smith is “uncommitted” to the bill. His lack of support for it may well be why the bill was not included as expected in the deficit reduction package agreed on by the state last week.

That is likely good news to a coalition of food retailers who planned a rally on the steps of City Hall today in protest of an expansion of the bill (and the “obesity tax”). “The bottle law,” the coalition’s press release argued, “acts just like an unfunded mandate, with retailers bearing the cost of redemption at great expense — restricting their ability to grow employment and prosper.”


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