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April 30, 2009

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

States jumping on water bottle wagon

Americans guzzled more than 9 billion gallons of bottled water last year to quench their thirst, and a growing push by states to put deposits on those bottles has retailers and the beverage industry steaming.

"States are looking at this as a money grab," said American Beverage Association spokesman Craig Stevens.

New York state's 2009-10 budget passed earlier this month adds a nickel deposit on bottled water starting June 1. Soda bottles and cans already require a similar deposit, now 26 years old.

Connecticut's 19-year-old bottle deposit law on beer and soft drinks will put a 5-cent deposit on water bottles starting Oct. 1. Oregon's 5-cent deposit law was expanded to include water bottles effective Jan. 1.

"There's just the fairness issue," said Peter Spendelow, solid waste policy analyst with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. "If you have two plastic 16.9-ounce bottles and this one is used to hold Sprite and this one is used to hold water, why should one be covered and the other not? In 1971, people weren't selling water in bottles. That's why it wasn't included. Things have changed."

According to the Container Recycling Institute, a Connecticut-based recycling advocacy group, 11 states require some deposit on bottled beverages: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Oregon and Vermont.

N.Y. delay possible

Some New York lawmakers have indicated that implementation of the state's new deposit on water bottles may be delayed to allow the rollout of a New York-specific bar code to prevent out-of-state bottles from being redeemed in the Empire State. The expansion of bottle bills to include water has run up against opposition from business groups ranging from retailers to beverage manufacturers.

"What we support is comprehensive curbside recycling that takes all material recycled in a single stream, picked up curbside. Our products are just a small speck in the waste stream," Stevens said. "If we're trying to cut landfill, let's look at newspaper, let's look at corrugated cardboard. A rigorous recycling system can reduce waste to landfills 40, 50 percent."

For the convenience stores that have to deal with returned containers, any expansion of bottle bills means increased difficulty in dealing with the bottles themselves, including storage, said Jeff Lenard, spokesman for the National Association of Convenience Stores.

"When you see a customer coming in with a bunch of bottles that may have drink still in it or cigarette butts, it doesn't send a positive message if they're on a counter for any length of time and you're selling food," Lenard said. "It does make things logistically much more challenging."

Monroe Community College student Denneya Edwards, 19, of Clay, Onondaga County, fills her shopping cart at Wal-Mart every other week with a case of bottled water. With the deposit, the price will go up $1.20, not enough to dissuade her from the purchase but perhaps enough to get people to redeem the bottles.

"Most people won't notice the 5 cents, but they'll notice you can return it," Edwards said.

The potential for revenue has played a major role in the expanded bottle bills. In Connecticut, funds from unredeemed carbonated beverages start going to the state instead of beverage distributors starting today. Funds from unredeemed water bottles will go to state coffers starting in October.

Need for revenue

New York Public Interest Research Group, a consumer and environmental advocacy nonprofit organization, has been pushing for an expansion of the state's bottle bill since 2002. It passed this year because of the state's desperate need to raise revenue and a provision requiring beverage distributors to share unclaimed deposits, said Laura Haight, senior environmental associate with NYPIRG.

The state estimates it will take in $115 million in unclaimed deposits during the 2009-10 fiscal year.

With future budget gaps looming, New York might not stop at water.

"We've pushed for energy drinks, iced teas, juices," Haight said. "We'll definitely be making the case in the future that it'll be time to look at those kinds of updates."


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