New York has become the second state this year to expand its bottle-deposit law to include water bottles, and to shift the millions of dollars in unredeemed deposits from distributors to state coffers.
Connecticut passed a similar measure March 3 that became law April 1, amending the state bill that has been in place since 1980.
The expansion of the New York bottle bill, after a nine-year battle, was part of the state budget approved April 3 and will go into effect June 1.
Between 2.5 billion and 3.2 billion water bottles are consumed annually in New York, representing one-fourth of all beverages sold in the state. Bottled water represents 69 percent of all non-carbonated beverage sales in the state of New York.
Under the law, 80 percent of all unredeemed deposits on beverage bottles, or an estimated $115 million, will go into the state's general fund.
Distributors and bottlers will keep the remaining 20 percent, or roughly $30 million. Since 1982, when deposits went into effect in New York on soft drinks, distributors and bottlers have kept all unredeemed deposits, an amount estimated at $2 billion.
This is a major environmental victory and one of the biggest environmental accomplishments in New York in the past decade, said Laura Haight, senior environmental associate with the New York Public Interest Research Group, in a phone interview. We will see a reduction in litter and a boost in recycling, and the money from the public's unclaimed nickels will go to work for [the state of New York], not Coke or Pepsi.
Recycling rates in bottle-deposit states are typically 80 percent or higher, compared with a nationwide recycling rate for soft drink and water bottles of 25 percent. In Oregon, for example, 83 percent of beer and soda containers were recycled in 2005 compared with 30 percent of water, juice and tea containers.
Even though the Connecticut bottle-bill expansion became law April 1, the actual implementation date for adding water bottles to the bottle-deposit program will be Oct. 1. The state Office of Policy Management granted six-month waivers of compliance to virtually all the distributors in the state at the request of the distributors under an undue hardship provision of the law.
Connecticut estimates that it will receive roughly $12 million annually in unredeemed deposits, starting next year. The money will go into a trust fund to be used to expand recycling options in the state,
Six of the 11 states with deposit bills now include carbonated soft drinks, beer and water bottles. Oregon added water Jan. 1. California, Maine and Hawaii include water, beer, soft drinks and other non-carbonated beverages such as teas and energy drinks.
Nationwide, the number of plastic water bottles sold annually in the U.S. nearly doubled from 15 billion in 2002 to 29.8 billion in 2005, and water bottle sales are more than seven times higher than in 1997, when only 3.8 billion water bottles were sold, according to the Container Recycling Institute in Glastonbury, Conn.
At least 11 other state legislatures are still looking at bottle-bill proposals. But only Oregon which is considering expanding its bill again to include teas and energy drinks is considered a strong contender to adopt additional legislation this year. Indiana and New Mexico already have rejected bottle-bill proposals.
The Oregon House Environment and Water Committee, by a narrow 5-3 vote in late March, approved a measure that would add nickel deposits to sports drinks, iced teas, coffees and juices, starting Jan. 1, 2013. It also would increase all bottle deposits in the state to 10 cents in 2016 if recycling rates drop below 80 percent in 2015.
Despite the uncertain outlook in other states, the passage of the New York bill could, in the long-term, influence legislators considering bottle bills or expansion of bottle bills, said Haight of NYPIRG.
Because New York is such a big state, the passage of the bill could be a powerful boost to other states' efforts, she said.
Betty McLaughlin, executive director of CRI, agreed. Coming on the heels of Connecticut's decision to include water bottles and Oregon's addition of water bottles this past January, New York's decision likely will mean that all bottle-bill states will follow, since New York is such a big market, McLaughlin said.
Haight cited four reasons why the expansion of the bottle bill was approved in New York many of which are similar to situations in other states.
It was the most high-profile environmental bill pending before the Legislature. The state did have a financial crisis. There was a groundswell of public support. There was grass-roots pressure from more than 700 groups that endorsed the bill, including small business, she said.
It was a different climate this year.
The details of the New York budget bill, including the bottle-bill expansion, were hammered out in private sessions between the governor's office and representatives of the New York House and Senate. The expanded bottle bill also includes an increase in the handling fees for grocers, convenience stores and redemption centers that handle deposit bottle returns from 2 cents to 3.5 cents the first increase since 1997.
We had been pushing for a much broader expansion, Haight said. We wanted to cover all non-carbonated beverages. But this is a huge victory.
Pat Franklin, retired founder of CRI, agreed. It is too bad that other non-carbonated drinks aren't covered by the bill, but half a loaf is better than none, Franklin said. The additional 2 billion plastic water bottles recycled each year will not only reduce litter and waste going to landfills, but will be a big boost to recycling businesses in the state. It is still a bigger, better bottle bill.