ALBANY — Several key legislators want to expand the 1982 bottle law through proposals that include doubling the 5-cent deposit and adding bottles of sports drinks, iced teas, juices, wines and liquor to the list of containers requiring deposits.
Other measures would require some beverages to be sold in refillable containers and help law enforcement crack down on fraudulent schemes that are costing the system millions of dollars a year.
“The bottle bill has done a great job of keeping certain materials out of landfills, but it hasn’t been changed in a long time,” Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee chairwoman Deborah Glick (D-Manhattan) said at a joint legislative hearing on Monday. “We’re here to listen [and] to inform how we go forward in a final fashion.”
Several bills are pending and they, along with new bills, could be considered as early as January or, more likely, in state budget negotiations. Gov. Kathy Hochul will present her budget proposal to the State Legislature in January, opening negotiations with legislative leaders. The budget is due by April 1.
WHAT TO KNOW
- Legislators want to expand New York State's 1982 bottle law that aims to reduce roadside litter.
- They have introduced bills that would raise the deposit to 10 cents; add wine, liquor, distilled spirit coolers, cider and milk products to the redeemable container list; ban single-use containers made of plastic for water; and provide grants to help build more redemption centers and other technology.
- The bills could be considered as early as January or, more likely, in state budget negotiations that could take several months to finish.
“We are still in the early stages of formulating our budget,” Hochul said Monday. “It’s something we’ll certainly look at.”
The current law requires deposits on bottles for carbonated soft drinks, sparkling water, carbonated energy drinks, carbonated juices, carbonated tea, soda water, beer and other malt beverages, mineral water, wine coolers and water that doesn’t contain sugar, such as nutritionally enhanced water.
Among the pending bills are measures that would raise the deposit to 10 cents; add wine, liquor, distilled spirit coolers, cider and milk products to the redeemable container list; ban single-use containers made of plastic for water; and provide grants to help build more redemption centers and other technology. Most of the bills were proposed last year.
The law has reduced roadside litter — its primary objective — by 70% and diverted more than 10 million tons of material from landfills, according to David Vitale, acting deputy commissioner for the issue at the state Department of Environmental Conservation. The numbers come from the department's study that tested results of the bottle law.
Proposed updates to the law over several years, led by the New York Public Interest Research Group, have had mixed results, but the idea of increasing the deposit to encourage more recycling hasn’t progressed. In past years, bottling companies and business groups have opposed the measure as an additional burden that could discourage sales.
Among the concerns are that some companies that handle bottle recycling are going out of business, saying their share of the nickel deposit no longer covers their costs. The cost of recycling also has outstripped revenue for local governments that operate redemption centers, legislators said.
Under the current system, about 65% of the bottles requiring 5-cent deposits are redeemed. Legislators and advocates said studies have shown increasing the deposit to 10 cents could increase that participation to 85%.
“Any 40-year-old program can do with an upgrade,” said Blair Horner, legislative director of NYPIRG. He said new legislation needs to expand the kind of containers covered by the law and provide grants to redemption centers to improve their technology and efficiency. And because state and local governments can keep a share of unredeemed nickels, a “bigger, better bottle bill” will provide revenue while also providing more funds for environmental programs.
On Long Island, local governments need more transfer stations and the state could help by providing funding, Assemb. Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead) said.
“This is an old issue that hasn’t aged well,” said Sen. Daniel Stec (R-Queensbury), of updating the bottle law. “We need to take this up.”
Other proposals arose at the hearing.
A state police union official said there is a growing illicit enterprise to game the current system. That includes retailers that reject bottles for recycling as broken and then keep the nickel deposit, said Matthew Krug, director of environmental conservation officers of the PBA of New York State.
In addition, some people take bottles purchased in other states that don’t collect a deposit and then claim the deposit through New York companies and local governments running their own recycling operations. The state says that’s a crime.
Krug also said the ranks of those dedicated to enforcing the bottle law are “half-staffed at best.” He said at least 90 state police troopers are needed just for New York City to handle the complex and lengthy cases, but only 11 troopers and investigators are assigned.
Environmental advocates said technology is also needed because bottles now collected at redemption centers and by retailers usually can’t be reused for bottles because the plastic degrades in processing. That has prompted a call for more reusable glass bottles.
Instead of using recycled bottles to avoid making more bottles, the recycled material often is only good enough to be used in polyester and fleece clothing, the advocates said.
Alexis Goldsmith of the Beyond Plastics environmental group is pushing for a measure that would require 25% of bottles to be reusable in New York by 2030. She said a major global bottler is already committing to that goal.
“Refill is the gold standard for the environment,” she said.
Senate Environmental Conservation Committee chairman Pete Harckham (D-South Salem) said a Hudson Valley manufacturer is already using only reusable bottles.
“So, this is possible even before legislation,” Harckham said.