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August 17, 2009

Buffalo Business First

Expanded bottle bill moves forward

The way is clear for the state's expanded "bottle bill" to take effect.

A federal court ruling ends a legal battle that began after state legislators expanded the bottle bill law in the state budget. A previous court order had frozen the new law from taking effect until April 2010, following complaints from a variety of companies in the beverage industry.

Under the existing law, which has been in effect since the mid-1980s, consumers pay a deposit of five cents per bottle on beverages such as beer and carbonated soft drinks, money that they can reclaim if they recycle the empty containers at certain stores.

The order from U.S. District Court Judge Deborah Batts allows almost all parts of the expanded law to take effect immediately.

Any provision dealing with bottled water -- including a new, five-cent deposit on those products -- will not take effect until at least Oct. 22, when a followup hearing is scheduled.

Batts' ruling means that the following provisions of the expanded law are now in effect on beverages already covered under the previous law, such as beer and soda:

• Distributors must now return 80 percent of unclaimed deposits to the state. Currently, distributors keep all unclaimed deposits.

• Distributors must increase the fees they pay redemption centers to take empty bottles, from two cents to 3.5 cents per container.

The state budget also requires bottles to have a unique New York-specific UPC bar code, so recyclers know which bottles qualify for the 5-cent redeemable deposits.

That provision remains frozen under Batts' order.

"The UPC was a huge concern. It's clear from her order that it will never happen," says Thomas Lauria, a spokesman for the International Bottled Water Association.

The association, along with Nestle Waters, sued the state in May as the expanded law's original June 1 deadline loomed.

At the time, a judge issued an order preventing all parts of the law from taking effect until April 1, 2010.

Distributors, bottlers and retailers complain the expanded law is costly and cumbersome -- and that the barcode requirement is unconstitutional because it impacted commerce in other states.

The expanded law is budgeted to generate $115 million in revenue for the state, which currently faces a $2.1 billion deficit.


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