Thirst Quenched

Bottle bills expanded in Connecticut and New York.

Following closely on the heels of its neighbor Connecticut, New York state has expanded its bottle deposit law, commonly known as a “bottle bill,” to include bottled water.

Gov. David Paterson's signing of the expanded law ends a nearly decade-long effort by environmental groups and state legislators to add bottled water to the bill. “After nine years of hard work, we finally passed the ‘Bigger, Better Bottle Bill,’” Paterson said in a press release. “This new law will reduce litter, boost recycling and create jobs.”

“Since the bottle bill was enacted nearly 30 years ago, the beverage industry has grown to include water drinks that have proliferated not simply on store shelves, but along the sides of our roads, wetlands, open spaces and beaches,” added state Assemblyman Bob Sweeney in a statement. “This [law] will encourage recycling and help to clean our environment by updating New York's most successful recycling law to better represent today's consumers.”

Bottle bills require consumers to pay refundable deposits on certain beverage containers. New York is one of 11 states that have such a law. Since 1982, New York residents have paid a 5-cent deposit on each container of a carbonated beverage. The deposits are redeemed when the containers are returned for recycling.

While New York officials are touting the expanded bottle bill's environmental benefits, the measure was passed in large part to help the state address its budgetary woes. The bill allows New York to keep 80 percent of the unclaimed bottle deposits — the rest will go to the beverage industry — a provision that officials have estimated will add $115 million to the state's coffers each year.

The law was originally scheduled to take effect on June 1, but as of press time, Paterson was indicating that he may delay implementation of the law to give manufacturers time to place the necessary bar codes on water bottles. The bar codes are needed so that people can't bring bottles sold in states without deposit laws to New York redemption centers and receive refunds.

Earlier this spring, Connecticut also extended its 5-cent bottle deposit law to cover water bottles. Its law took effect on April 1. However, manufacturers could apply for a waiver that would give them until Oct. 1 to place the needed bar codes on bottle labels. The state has granted waivers to about 40 manufacturers, according to The Connecticut Post. The new law also exempts three-liter and larger containers as well as containers made of high-density polyethylene.

Connecticut, which is also battling budgetary problems, will keep the unredeemed deposits to help its bottom line. Connecticut officials originally projected that the bottle bill expansion would bring in an additional $3.8 million by the end of June, but that was before the state granted the 40 waivers.

In an interview with the WNPR radio network, Jesse Stratton, a spokeswoman for the Sierra Club's Connecticut chapter who has been lobbying for the expansion for years, admitted that financial considerations drove the move. But, “this really is the way to most cost effectively and efficiently assure that a very valuable commodity, this PET plastic, is actually recycled, rather than incinerated,” she told the network.

In another interview with WNPR, Craig Stevens, spokesman for the American Beverage Association, which opposed the expansion, dismissed the expanded container deposit law as “a money grab.”

“I think the other side of this is how cynical of a public policy this is,” Stevens added. “The legislature is betting that the citizens don't recycle.”

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