December 30, 2010

EDITORIAL: New Bottle Bill doing its job

By most measures, the state's expansion of the Bottle Bill is a howling success. Millions more bottles are being kept out of landfills, and that has to be the ultimate yardstick.

On Oct. 31, 2009, New York expanded the Returnable Beverage Container Act, better known as the Bottle Bill, to include water bottles. Up until then, only carbonated beverages were subject to a deposit and refund.

Before that, soda manufacturers and bottlers complained they were victims of unfair competition, since consumers didn't have to pay a deposit on water bottles. Legislators expanded the requirement in the interest of fairness and, perhaps more importantly, in the interest of generating more money for the state and removing more containers from the landfill stream.

The law has certainly generated more money for the state. Figures from the State Comptroller's Office show that the state collected $45.5 million from Oct. 31, 2009, through March 31, 2010, and, so far this fiscal year, $75.5 million. That is money the state received from beverage companies that, under the new law, were required to give 80 percent of all unclaimed deposits to the state.

Meanwhile, the state increased fees paid to handlers and redeemers of bottles and deposits from 2 cents per container to 3.5 cents. That increase may at least in part be responsible for an increased compliance with the law: A survey of stores last February found that 93 percent were complying with the law's redemption requirements, and most of the water bottles were correctly labeled. Compliance with the law was lax only in 74 percent of the merchants' failure to display proper signage notifying consumers of their rights.

The number of redemption centers statewide increased by 113, meaning merchants were finding it profitable to get into the business.

And the Adirondack Council has figures showing the price of bottled water hasn't risen significantly, as it had been forecast to.

The bottled-water industry had sued to prevent enactment of the law, which delayed its implementation for five months, but the issues in the suit have apparently not proven to be serious impediments for anyone.

Some environmental groups still argue that, even with the Expanded Bottle Bill, not enough is being done to protect all interests. Bill Cooke of the Albany-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment maintains that buying water at all is a detriment.

His point is that some of the water is no better than tap water and that, by buying bottled water rather than taking it from the tap, municipal systems are being under-used. His group would rather see an end — or at least a dramatic diminution — of plastic containers.

That may be a quixotic goal, however. Recycled plastic is better than new plastic, and, so long as the pace of re-use accelerates, the Expanded Bottle Bill is doing its job — with New York taxpayers the modest beneficiaries.

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