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March 4, 2009


Bottle Deposit Testimonies in the Nickel City

State Environmental Conservation Committee Chair Antoine Thompson sponsors public hearing

Two years ago, we published a cover story about the Bigger Better Bottle Bill (BBBB) that began this way:

Did you know that three billion non-carbonated beverage containers are sold in New York State annually? Let’s conservatively estimate that each container is six inches tall. If you could balance all these water, juice, tea, coffee and sport drink containers end to end, you could stack them to the moon and still have nearly enough left over to wrap around the equator twice. Again, that’s only counting New York State, and over the course of only one year. Currently, less than one quarter of these are recycled. The rest make their way through the waste stream as litter, content for landfills or fuel for incinerators.

Since then, an updated Beverage Market Data Analysis by the Container Recycling Institute indicates a 50 percent increase in non-carbonated beverage sales in New York, bringing the figure past 4.6 million containers annually—enough to stack to the moon and back.

The measure, which has passed a few times in the State Assembly over the years, only to die on the Senate floor, is back again with more momentum than ever. In essence, the bill expands the existing nickel deposit on carbonated beverages to include the non-carbonated variety—a segment of the beverage market that grew 95 percent between 2000 and 2006.

Now, with New York State facing a monstrous deficit, bill supporters argue the measure could generate anywhere from $118 million to $218 million for the state next year, while cleaning the environment and encouraging green business. The bill includes incentives for collection centers. Last week, Connecticut passed a similar law.

This is the first time the common sense measure is being considered since the departure of Republican Senator Joseph Bruno, who was deeply beholden to soda and supermarket lobbyists. They call the bottle deposit a “tax,” but fall silent when asked to name another “tax” that is 100 percent refundable.

Consider this email sent nearly two years ago to some local bill opponents by attorney Steven W. Harris, of Featherstonhaugh, Wiley, Clyne & Cordo, LLP, a firm that lobbied against the bill back then:

As Yogi Berra once said…“it ain’t over ‘till its over”, but the Senate has officially rejected the Governor’s Expanded Bottle bill proposal during today’s negotiations. While I won’t say that it is impossible for it to resurrect itself in the next few hours, it is very unlikely that this will be discussed further. You can now all take a collective sigh of relief (or stop holding your breath). The governor will reintroduce this proposal as a Governor’s Program Bill so I will still be busy the rest of session. We can talk about what all this means in Florida in two weeks so see you all then!

He’s right. It ain’t over. This Friday, March 6, the new chair of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee—Senator Antoine Thompson—has scheduled a public hearing on the BBBB at the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society (25 Nottingham Court), 10am-12pm. Thompson, commenting just after a similar meeting in Albany on Wednesday, said, “The issue is at a critical juncture.” NYPIRG spokesperson Laura Haight, who also attended the hearing, said that more than thirty people spoke, stretching the two-hour session to more than three hours.

Anyone wishing to learn why container deposits are one of the most effective means of reducing litter, conserving resources, and promoting a green economy while pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the struggling state economy—and why beverage makers, distributors, and retailers disagree—are encouraged to attend.


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