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Wanted: an NY bottle bill for modern times

A glass and plastic bottle and can recycling

A glass and plastic bottle and can recycling machine outside store in Queens. Credit: Education Images / Universal Images Group via Getty Images/Lindsey Nicholson

New York State’s bottle deposit law, commonly known as the Bottle Bill, has been so successful for so long it’s hard to imagine it was once controversial. Yet, even New York’s most effective recycling law can benefit from an update to reflect changed circumstances since it was approved by the State Legislature in 1982.

Here’s how it works: We buy beverage containers that retain a nickel deposit, consume the beverage, and when we return it to the most convenient redemption location, we get the nickel back. This process results in less junk for landfills and greatly enhanced recycling rates. In 2020, nearly two-thirds of all covered containers were redeemed by New York consumers. The Bottle Bill has reduced roadside container litter by 70%, state data shows, and in 2020, 5.5 billion containers were recycled in New York.

And, while climate change was less of an environmental concern 40 years ago, the Bottle Bill has proved not only to optimize incentives for people to recycle beverage containers, but also to generate lower levels of CO2 emissions compared to dual and single-stream recycling programs.

In addition to those intended and unforeseen environmental benefits, the law has also created thousands of jobs and financial benefits for those collecting and recycling the containers as well as the wider community.

Despite those successes, it’s time to modernize the Bottle Bill for the world of today.

In a recent letter to Gov. Kathy Hochul, 12 Long Island groups identified two significant changes to the law that should be enacted to update it for the 21st century:

  • Expand the types and number of beverage containers covered by the Bottle Bill. Other states from Maine to California include a diverse range of noncarbonated beverages, juices, teas, coffees, sports drinks, hard cider, wine, and liquor to great success. It doesn’t make sense to choose specific containers covered by the deposit and leave others without a deposit value. All containers should be treated equally and have a similarly excellent recycling rate. The state must work with recycling leaders and programs to modernize the technology that makes waste management easier and cleaner.
  • Increase the deposit amount to a dime. Use a portion of additional revenues collected by the state to ensure better compliance and enhance access to redemption opportunities in currently underserved communities, frequently found in low-income urban areas. States like Michigan and Oregon that have increased their deposit to a dime have seen increases in recycling and container redemption rates.

Modernizing technology is also essential. Under current Bottle Bill legislation, equal access to technology is restricted. Beverage distributors are the only stakeholders throughout the redemption supply chain that retain the privilege of deciding which technologies, like compaction devices, are eligible for redemption service and which ones aren’t. These distributors also maintain the power to determine what redemption locations can utilize preexisting technologies. Currently, redemption businesses in New York are working harder, not smarter, as they cannot condense recyclable materials with the same efficiency as states like Connecticut or Maine. This means more polluting trucks and less profit for small business owners.

Modernizing the Bottle Bill will reduce litter, increase recycling rates, reduce waste, reduce carbon emissions, and bring thousands of additional jobs to New York.

Forty years is a long time. Modernizing the Bottle Bill is essential if Hochul intends to move the state forward to reduce waste, enhance recycling and build a sustainable economy for the 21st century.

This guest essay reflects the views of Martin Naro, founder and chief executive of Long Island-based recycling company Evtek, and Ryan Thoresen Carson of New York Public Interest Research Group.

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