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June 12, 2009


New York State Legislature fails to implement bottle bill in spite of Pacific garbage patch

The NYS legislature has been unable to implement the new bottle bill due to a lawsuit by Nestle and a US District Court judge's decision to delay implementation of the bill until next April.

This, in spite of the fact that Oprah recently called attention to the vast swath of garbage, twice the size of Texas and up to 90 feet deep, that has been floating around the Pacific Ocean for years. Ninety percent of the garbage patch is made up of plastic, and eighty percent of it is blown into the ocean from trash on land - including plastic water bottles.

In New York CIty this weekend, the MSLK art exhibit Watershed is installing a sculpture made of 1500 plastic water bottles, depicting the number of water bottles used and thrown away by Americans every second. Plastic water bottles are considered to be a huge part of the waste stream that is in desperate need of curbing. Here in our little coastal  community on the East End of Long Island, plastic water bottles are a common sight on the beaches.

The Algalita Marine Research Foundation (click on the video below) has studied plastic in ocean waters. Petroleum based plastics, including plastic water bottles, do not biodegrade. Even when they break up into tiny pieces they do not go away. They simply stay there, wash up on shore, or get ingested by mammals, birds, fish and even plankton, the tiny creatures that live in the ocean. Plankton are at the bottom of the food chain. If they are ingesting plastic that means it is only a matter of time until we are ingesting it.

So groups of concerned citizens and organizations have asked the state to add a five cent deposit on plastic water bottles, just like people have been paying for years on other types of soda and juice containers, in order to keep some of these bottles out of the streets, landfills, and oceans. It was hoped that the chance to get the five cents per bottle back would at least motivate many people to keep track of their empty bottles and dispose of them properly at the supermarkets. It was reasoned that this would at least make a small dent in the growing plastic water bottle problem.

It was a battle but the legislature initially did the right thing and passed the legislation. However, there were technical problems with the bill that the Legislature failed to correct. According to Laura Haight of N.Y.P.I.R.G, this drew a lawsuit from bottled water companies including Nestle. Rather than working out the technicalities, the judge gave the plaintiffs more than they asked for and delayed the bill until next April.

Emboldened by these developments and concerned that a five cent deposit will hurt sales, Nestle has embarked on a campaign to invalidate the need behind the bill. Hmmm..., what will hurt the sale of bottled water more - a five cent, totally refundable bottle deposit for the good of the environment; or the water bottling industry's failure to be a good citizen?

The New York State Attorney General is asking the court to remedy this so that the bill can be implemented.


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