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Advocates urge Gov. Hochul to expand New York 'Bottle Bill'

Environmental activists held a rally in Mineola on

Environmental activists held a rally in Mineola on Thursday where they called on Gov. Kathy Hochul to increase the return rate on beverage bottles from five to 10 cents. Credit: John Roca

Advocates on Thursday urged Gov. Kathy Hochul to update the state's recycling law by raising the return rate on beverage bottles and adding liquor, wine and noncarbonated drinks to the list of recyclable items.

The coalition of environmental and social justice groups wants the governor to include the updates in what would be a revamped Returnable Container Act — the landmark recycling law, popularly known as the "Bottle Bill" — in her 2022 budget proposal.

"This bill has been around for almost 40 years and has been unbelievably successful but there's a lot more we can do," said Ryan Carson of the New York Public Interest Research Group at a rally in Mineola, surrounded by bags of recyclable containers and a 15-foot-tall inflatable bottle.

Martin Naro, founder and chief executive of EVTEK, a recycling company in Riverhead, said the legislative changes will be a catalyst for increased recycling, which will lead to reduced litter, a cleaner environment, and slow the effects of climate change.

"The data and science is clear," Naro said. "Packaging and containers that retain a deposit value truly drive higher recycling rates. These are the key drivers to a more sustainable and circular economy."

The law, which requires retailers who sell covered beverages to accept returns of empty containers for the products they sell, and refund the deposits, was last updated in 2009 to include water bottles.

Several states, including California and Maine, have expanded their bottle bills to include noncarbonated beverages, wine and liquor bottles, which currently must be recycled by municipalities through curbside programs.

"The world changes over time and laws must change," said Karen Zilber, campaign coordinator at All Our Energy, an environmental nonprofit in Point Lookout. "While five cents may have once been significant, time has reduced its impact."

Supporters want the return rate on beverage bottles increased from five to 10 cents. They said beverage container redemption rates in New York have stagnated at 64%, while states that have increased refundable deposits to 10 cents, including Oregon and Michigan, have seen those rates increase dramatically.

"Governor Hochul is committed to protecting our environment and fighting climate change, and will review all budget requests," said spokesman Avi Small.

Environmental advocates said that plastic bottles are now the most common items recovered during beach cleanups. Experts predict that by 2025, the Earth's oceans will have one ton of plastic for every three tons of fish, leading to greater contamination of marine life.

"We know [the legislative changes] can increase recycling, reduce littering and plastics pollution in our environment," said Matt Gove, mid-Atlantic policy manager of the Surfrider Foundation, an environmental group with offices in East Hampton and Long Beach. " … It's a win-win-win all around."

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