March 31, 2009
Updated bottle deposit law breaks "9-year logjam"
Breaking what David A. Paterson's office called "a 9-year logjam in the legislature," the budget state lawmakers are expected to start voting on today contains the biggest expansion of New York's bottle deposit law since its inception.
The update would slap a 5-cent deposit on bottled water, adding it to the carbonated drinks whose containers already are redeemable under law. It would also redirect to the state 80 percent of the unclaimed nickels - now kept by the beverage industry - generating an estimated $115 million each year.
Judith Enck, Paterson's deputy secretary for the environment, called the change "an extraordinary accomplishment." Enck and environmental advocates said it would reduce litter and boost recycling.
The money doesn't hurt either. "This [the original bottle bill] has been a windfall to the beverage industry, and we're happy to now have access to those dollars," Enck said.
Environmental advocates had long pushed to rewrite the bottle law - now limited to beer, soda, mineral water and wine coolers - to include noncarbonated drinks. But the beverage and grocery industries fought those changes, and efforts to change the law stalled in the Republican-led Senate.
Enter a new - albeit razor-thin - Democratic majority in the Senate, and one of the worst financial crises facing New York State in years.
The version that emerged after budget talks last week contained political sweeteners. The fee distributors pay to retailers for accepting and storing the containers will increase from 2 cents to 3.5 cents. Exemptions that allow some small New York City delis to place limits on returns will be expanded statewide. And big-box retailers will have to install redemption machines like those at many supermarkets.
Opponents call the budget proposal a money grab that will raise prices and force the beverage industry to use their own money for state-mandated recycling efforts now covered by unclaimed deposits.
"I'm tired of people telling me it's only 5 cents a can, it's only a penny and a half increase in handling fees," said Ken Meyer, senior vice president of Clare Rose, a large Long Island beer distributor. "The cost to Clare Rose will be anywhere from $6 million to $7 million a year."
At a glance
Requires a $. 05 deposit on containers of beer, wine coolers, soft drinks mineral and soda water.
Beverage industry keeps unclaimed deposits.
Adds bottled water.
The state keeps 80 percent of unclaimed deposits; 20 percent goes to the beverage industry.
HOW IT WOULD WORK
1. Bottler/beverage distributor charges retailers $. 05 deposit per container and deposits it into an interest-paying account in a New York State bank. The money must be deposited every 5 business days.
2. Retailer passes $. 05 deposit on to consumer.
3. If consumer returns container, retailer refunds $. 05 deposit. Distributor/bottler picks up empties and pays retailer $. 085 for each: $. 05 per container [from deposit account in step 1], plus $. 035 handling fee.
4. Each quarter, 80 percent of money in interest-paying account goes to state.