September 30, 2009
Bottles, bottles everywhere
Those cases of bottled water New Yorkers are buying now will cost consumers more to haul out of the store and will give shoppers a 5-cent-per-bottle incentive to bring them back.
With the state's bottle bill in legal limbo, major retailers are getting ready for the avalanche of plastic about to come their way if a federal judge decides to lift an injunction in October that is blocking the law. Major retailers aren't crossing their fingers that the enactment will be delayed further, which would give stores and bottled-water companies have more time to prepare for the change.
Instead, supermarket chains such as Wegmans and Weis already are working on plans to reconfigure their existing self-help recycling machines or are ready beef up staff assigned to the recycling areas of their stores. For many retailers, they dreaded the day when they would have to handle thousands more plastic returns each week after New York extended its 5-cent deposit law to include water.
Long before the bill was approved in the 2009 session, opponents to the bill warned about the extra cost of handling the bottles and how that would add to the price of bottled water. They advocated instead that governments do a more aggressive job of curbside recycling to encourage proper disposal of the bottles and cut down on clutter in the environment.
But the financial incentive for cash-strapped New York made this bill as fiscally attractive as it was environmentally sound. The state will keep 80 percent of unclaimed deposits on all bottles and cans of beverages. The manufacturers, who currently get all the unclaimed deposit money, will get 20 percent - a fact they have said would further add to the cost of their products.
Whether consumers end up paying more for their beverages - beer, soda or bottled water - as a result of the change remains to be seen, but the deposits on water bottles, while causing a nuisance for some consumers and a massive retooling for retailers, could also mean less litter. It might not mean that trash-tossing water drinkers won't shrug off a lost nickel and flip the bottles along highways anyway. But it could lead to more roadside scavengers and fundraising groups gladly taking those bottles off people's hands.
The Container Recycling Institute estimates that more than 3.2 billion water bottles are sold in the state annually. Anyone who has walked through a park, strolled a city street or traveled the roads of this region has seen evidence of that sales volume strewn around.
When this bill goes into effect, it should have the intended result of less litter, but the real incentive for that shouldn't just be the nickel. It should be a cleaner environment that people have enough pride in to keep it clean.