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May 22, 2009

The Daily Gazette

Delay new bottle law, but don't kill

One noted New York philosopher, Casey Stengel, once famously asked: “Can’t anyone here play this game?” while another, Yogi Berra, reminded us, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” Both lines apply to Gov. Paterson and the Legislature’s handling of the Bigger, Better Bottle Bill, passed with great fanfare and relief in April, and now in serious jeopardy thanks to a lack of leadership in Albany. It’s OK to delay implementation beyond June 1, when the law is scheduled to take effect, but not OK to scrap it. Or to make other major, last-minute changes, as Paterson is proposing.

The bill is badly needed. It would expand the current, highly successful bottle law, which requires nickel deposits on returnable beer and soda containers, to include bottled water. Just as those containers used to clog landfills and litter roadsides before the law was enacted in 1982, so water bottles do now. We would have preferred that the bill include juice and sports drink containers, which are also problems, but they were eliminated from earlier versions.

The bill did have one technical flaw, having to do with the requirement that all beverage containers include a New York state-specific UPC bar code to prevent fraud — i.e. people purchasing them in neighboring states and redeeming them in New York. It quickly became clear that two months wasn’t enough time for the industry to put bar codes on all their products, or to get rid of their bar code-less inventory. But nothing was done then to resolve the issue and June 1 is nearly here. So it makes sense to delay implementation of that part of the law — until Oct. 1, as Paterson and the Senate have proposed.

But there is no need to tinker with other parts of it, as Paterson now wants to do (purportedly at the request of the soda industry). He has proposed taking away from supermarkets a 1.5 cent increase in the handling fee, which made the new law more palatable to them — and more fair. The current handling fee — two cents — hasn’t increased since 1997, and the supermarkets are taking in more containers than ever.

The Bigger, Better Bottle Bill was adopted after a seven-year campaign by environmental groups, who accepted many compromises to get it. Paterson should be showing leadership and finding a way to implement it as smoothly as possible, rather than inserting a poison pill that could kill it.


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