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March 26, 2009

The Ithacan Online

State proposes bottle tax

New Yorkers may see a 5-cent tax on nearly every plastic bottle they purchase, if Gov. David Paterson’s proposed state budget is passed.

The “Bigger, Better Bottle Bill” will expand the 1982 Returnable Container Act that put a 5-cent deposit on soda and beer bottles and cans. The new bill hopes to expand to include water, juice, tea and sports drink containers as well. In the governor’s executive budget plan, an estimated $118 million may be raised from the 5-cent bottles that go unclaimed.

From 2005 to 2006, New Yorkers redeemed 68 percent of bottles and cans, according to the Container Recycling Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit research organization. The deposit money from the remaining 32 percent of unclaimed deposits totaled $144 million, all of which goes back to the beverage companies to handle and process the empty beverage containers.

The proposed bottle bill will collect the money from the unclaimed bottles and return it to the state, according to the CRI. With New York state facing a lean budget, Joe Stelling from the New York Public Interest Research Group said the money will “help close the gap.”

“We’re facing a huge budget deficit, numbers like we’ve never seen before, and it would be a great time to put the public’s unclaimed nickels back to work for the public,” Stelling said.

The environmental implications of the bill are positive, Stelling said. According to CRI, New Yorkers only recycle 16 percent of water, juice and tea bottles, but nearly 80 percent of other noncarbonated beverages. A bottle bill could increase the rate at which New Yorkers recycle water, juice and tea bottles.

Opponents of the bill call the bottle bill inefficient, outdated and ineffective. Jonathan Pierce, spokesman for the Real Recycling Reform, a coalition of state grocers, businesses and labor groups, said the coalition calls for more recycling bins in public areas instead of a bottle tax.

“The basic rule of recycling is, the easier it is to recycle, the more likely people are to do it,” Pierce said.

Dropping recyclables in a blue bin at the end of the driveway is the most efficient way to recycle and the easiest for consumers. Returning containers for deposits will not be the best incentive to keep recycling, he said.

“This is really a money grab by the state of New York,” he said.

While some are skeptical of the bill, claiming it will raise prices of bottles, Jeff Edwards, from the New York Association for Reduction, Reuse and Recycling, said he doubts the cost of the beverage will change much.

“The cost of beverages, in my opinion, is not determined by the cost to make and distribute it,” he said. “The cost is determined by what the market will bear.”

At Ithaca College, Jeff Scott, director of dining services, said the college buys about 140,000 bottles that don’t have a deposit on them each year.

Marian Brown, special assistant to the provost, said while the college receives income from recycling paper and cardboard, it does not from bottles or cans, regardless of whether the bottles have a deposit. If the bottle bill is passed though, it may be worth the expense for the college to separate, store and transport the bottles for deposit, she said.

“Theoretically, we could separate and deposit and get the money back,” Brown said. “Potentially, this could be an income stream [for the college].”

The budget, which will include a decision on the bill, is expected to take place on April 1.


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