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May 29, 2009

Star Gazette

Half-full law
Now-delayed bottle deposit may be hassle at first, but not when we get used to it.

A judge's ruling on Wednesday blocking the nickel deposits on water bottles in New York hints at how badly this bill was handled in Albany. As a result, the enactment of the deposits, which was to have taken place on Monday, is on an indefinite hold so that the bottling industry - and reasonably so - can get labels properly coded to ensure the expanded recycling process.

Eventually, state officials will get it right, and now, after U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Griesa approved an injunction holding up the law, they have time to work with the industry on a reasonable timeline to make sure this expansion of bottle deposits works and that machines can accept the new labels. Why didn't they figure this out before setting a June 1 deadline? Good question.

Maybe in hopes of getting their hands on unclaimed deposits for the struggling state treasury, state officials forgot that this kind of thing doesn't happen overnight. Of course, the beverage industry and retailers had been trying to issue such warnings as early as the 2008 legislative session.

If some industry executives had their druthers, there would be no expansion of the current 5-cent deposits on beer and soda containers. They would rather have seen more incentives toward curbside recycling. Their concept wasn't unreasonable, but they've lost the fight - sort of.

Gov. David Paterson pushed the water-bottle deposit through as part of his budget package. Initially, he wanted expansion of the deposits to other beverage containers, such as juices, iced teas and sports drinks. In the end, all he got was water, but that was enough. The growth of bottled water consumption in the U.S. leveled off in 2008, according to the International Bottled Water Association, but Americans still gulp down an average of 28.5 gallons of the stuff each year.

That puts a lot of plastic at risk of being tossed along roadways, picnic areas and hiking paths. A deposit program isn't a guarantee against cleaning up all that litter, but it provides a stronger incentive to return bottles than what currently exists.

Despite the potential impact on the cleaner environment, the bill is going to become a burden on consumers, retailers and recycling centers. A case of water is going to cost at least $1.20 more, and then there's the additional space consumers will need, at home or in the office, to store empties that before they just tossed. On top of that, lines at retail and recycling outlets could be longer and slower as consumers return more containers.

But the expanded deposit, like the state's current beer and soda law, will eventually become an accepted habit. The sooner officials can work out a new timetable to enact the law - predictions are sometime between July and October - the sooner that consumers and businesses can get used to a new method of recycling in New York.


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