It's been a confounding six months for thrifty New York recyclers itching to take advantage of the new nickel deposit on bottled water.
Signed into law in April, the expanded deposit bill was sidelined by a lawsuit and only officially rolled out - after much legal wrangling - on Oct. 31.
But it really took effect on Nov. 8. The state quietly gave retailers and redemption centers a grace period to prepare for an expected flood of consumers demanding their nickels back.
"It's been a long time coming and there had been some confusion about when this law would actually take effect," Peter Scully, regional director of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said at a news conference Thursday intended to clarify things. "We really want folks to know that . . . they can now begin redeeming any water product container that doesn't contain sugar."
Surrounded by fifth-graders at Southwest Elementary School in Bay Shore, Scully and local officials and environmental advocates urged students to recycle water bottles. Some speakers invoked Mother Earth; others appealed to baser instincts. "Every time you help your parents or neighbors recycle, you get a nickel," said the Nature Conservancy's Kevin McDonald.
The expanded deposit law imposes the same fee on bottled water that New Yorkers already pay when they buy beer or soda. Intended to reduce litter and increase recycling, the law also directs 80 percent of unclaimed deposits to the state. Previously the money was kept by bottlers and wholesalers, who along with grocery stores resisted the change.
Several students said they already prodded their parents to recycle.
Nathalia Garcia, 10, of Bay Shore said she wanted to collect water bottles left on the field by soccer players with local youth leagues. "I tell my sister not to just throw them away," she said.
Reverse vending machines at all 52 grocery stores owned by King Kullen have been reprogrammed to accept water bottles, said Tom Cullen, the chain's vice president for government and industry relations. "It was a big task," he said, adding that it was too soon to tell whether large numbers of water bottles had been redeemed.