February 25, 2009
Nickels to Clean New York
Only rarely does one solution solve a lot of problems. One that does — or at least could — is New York’s Bigger Better Bottle Bill. Potentially one of the most productive items on Albany’s legislative menu, the bill would expand the list of cans and bottles that could be redeemed for a nickel. It would include bottles used for noncarbonated and nonalcoholic beverages, such as water, sports drinks and juice.
The bill would reduce litter in rivers and on highways, encourage recycling, save on natural resources and help replenish environmental programs whose budgets have been cut during the economic downturn.
Right now, a consumer can redeem beer cans and soda bottles for the original nickel deposit. By enlarging the list to include the increasing number of drinks that don’t have bubbles, the Bigger Better Bottle Bill would add as many as five billion more cans and bottles to the nine billion that now carry the nickel deposit.
That adds up to a lot of money, but here’s the real bonus. It’s what the bill says about the so-called missing nickels. Right now, when consumers pay a nickel per bottle upfront and then fail to redeem that bottle, the forgone nickel goes to the beverage industry. The stores obviously deserve a reasonable handling fee, but the beverage companies, which have powerful friends in Albany, deserve less than the windfall they are getting now.
The latest bill would reroute a large chunk of this money to the state’s Environmental Protection Fund — which, among other things, helps purchase open space. Gov. David Paterson estimates that the missing nickels could bring in $118 million a year for the environment; the Container Recycling Institute, which studies such matters, says that revenue could reach $218 million.
There is a balance to this deal. Those who can afford the extra nickel per drink and don’t redeem the bottles help pay to maintain a cleaner state. Those who can’t afford the 5 cents and need to redeem their containers not only get their nickel back but assure that the cans and bottles get recycled.