A federal judge has ruled that most of the provisions of New York state's expanded bottle deposit bill which has been challenged by bottled water companies can go into effect im- mediately.
But the extension of nickel deposits to include bottled water bottles won't go into effect until after an Oct. 22 court hearing, U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts said in her Aug. 13 decision.
Batts suggested that the provision extending deposits to bottled water would take effect after the Oct. 22 hearing, unless bottled water companies can show compliance would be impossible to achieve.
The bottled water industry is walking on unusually inhospitable legal terrain, Batts said in her decision: It is the court's expectation that [bottled water companies] are actively working to achieve compliance.
The bill had originally been scheduled to go into effect June 1, but was challenged in court by the International Bottled Water Association, Nestlé Waters North America Inc. and Polar Corp., which obtained a temporary injunction barring the law's implementation.
We were surprised and pleased, said Laura Haight, senior environmental associate with the New York Public Interest Research Group, in an Aug. 14 interview. Judge Batts sent an extremely clear signal that she intends to put the provisions that expand the bottle bill to water bottles into place Oct. 22.
But IBWA argued that the ruling does not change anything with regard to bottled water.
The industry continues to be exempt from the decision until our hearing on Oct. 22, a spokesman said. [It] does not affect bottled water.
The ruling means that 80 percent of the unclaimed 5-cent deposits estimated to be about $115 million will now go to the state. Distributors and bottlers will keep the remaining 20 percent, or roughly $30 million.
Before, distributors kept all funds from unclaimed depos- its an amount estimated to be around $2 billion since 1982, when the state's deposit system was introduced.
Under the new law, the handling fee that distributors pay to grocers, convenience stores and redemption centers for handling bottle returns will increase from 2 cents to 3.5 cents the first increase since 1997.
Between 2.5 billion and 3.2 billion water bottles are consumed annually in New York, representing one-fourth of all the beverages sold in the state.
The ruling allows the provisions of the law that were not part of the bottled water industry lawsuit to go into effect, Haight said. The state had been losing $237,000 day. This is one of the most important environmental victories in the state of New York in a long time.
State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo agreed. The court's decision will allow essential, long-overdue updates to the bottle bill to finally take effect, he said. [It] will ensure that the most critical elements of the bill move forward expeditiously.
There is one exception: The judge said the bill's requirement that manufacturers develop a bar code specifically for products sold in the state would remain on hold indefinitely.
Nestlé Chairman and CEO Kim Jeffery said in a statement that the company would abide by the judge's decision after the upcoming hearing is held.
But Jeffery said he felt the bottle bill is flawed and that he hopes to work with state officials and legislators to strengthen it.
The bill's gaping loopholes and sweetheart deals will hinder recycling, he said.
Jeffery said that to be effective, deposit laws must apply to all beverages, including sports drinks, teas, juices, and energy drinks, and must make recycling convenient by allowing consumers to return bottles to any retail or redemption center.
He added that handling fees must remain reasonable and deposit laws must dedicate funding to support community recycling programs.
Six of the 11 states with deposit bills now include carbonated soft drinks, beer and water bottles.
Oregon added water Jan. 1, and Connecticut will add water bottles Oct. 1. California, Maine and Hawaii include water, beer, soft drinks and other non-carbonated beverages.
The number of plastic water bottles sold in the U.S. nearly doubled from 15 billion in 2002 to 29.8 billion in 2005, according to the Container Recycling Institute in Culver City, Calif.
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