As state officials work out the details of the state budget in the next few days, the Assembly proposal to expand the bottle bill deserves their support. The key reason: The revenue from that change would add $24 million a year to the Environmental Protection Fund.
Currently, the state is collecting about $115 million a year in unclaimed deposits from the Bigger Better Bottle Bill passed in 2009, and the Environmental Protection Fund hasn’t gotten a single penny. Environmentalists worked for decades to get the bottle bill passed, hoping that some of the revenue would be dedicated to the environment.
The Assembly’s 2013-14 budget proposal remedies that shortcoming by directing $24 million of the expected new revenue to the fund, giving it a total appropriation of $158 million.
The new money would go to a variety of projects: $500,000 for control of invasive species; $500,000 for recycling projects; $1.5 million for non-agriculture “nonpoint source” pollution abatement; $1 million for zoos and botanical gardens; $500,000 for municipal parks; and $1 million for downstate land-acquisition efforts.
New York State’s bottle bill now requires a 5-cent deposit on beer, soda, wine coolers and water containers. The Assembly is proposing to expand the bill to include additional noncarbonated beverages such as sports beverages, energy drinks, some fruit juices and teas.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the Senate have proposed changes in the bottle bill, but not expanding the types of containers covered. While adding $19 million a year to the Environmental Protection Fund programs, their changes would actually make it harder for consumers to return their empty containers. That would wind up raising more money for the state by reducing the number of bottles and cans that are recycled.
One of the objections involves allowing smaller stores to take back no more than 72 bottles and cans per person per day instead of the 240 now allowed. Stores also would be required to reject a container that is not “reasonably clean.” The law now says stores “may” reject bottles and cans containing foreign material or ones that are damaged, dented or broken or have an unreadable label.
Some retailers may be against expanding the law because it requires more work from them. But the state took care of that objection in 2009 by increasing the handling fee that stores and redemption centers get from 2 cents to 3 ½ cents per container.
The original 1982 bottle bill and its update in 2009 have done wonders for keeping litter from roads and other public spaces. The Assembly’s proposal would take that cleanup effort one step further while generating more money for the Environmental Protection Fund.