After several delays and a court challenge, the expansion of New York state's bottle-deposit program to include water bottles will go into effect Oct. 31 nearly five months later than originally scheduled.
U.S. District Court Judge Deborah Batts ruled last week that the deposit could be enacted. But she permanently enjoined a provision of the bill that would have required bottlers to have state-specific UPC labels on their bottles.
We are grateful that the courts have resolved this issue, said Laura Haight, senior environmental associate with the New York Public Interest Research Group. This is a long-overdue change that will dramatically improve recycling rates and reduce litter.
New York becomes the third state this year and sixth overall to include water bottles in its deposit program. Oregon added water bottles Jan. 1 and Connecticut followed on Oct. 1.
Overall, 11 states have deposit laws that include carbonated soft drinks, beer and water bottles. California, Hawaii and Maine also include non-carbonated beverages such as teas and energy drinks.
It seems to me that this is certainly a trend now, Haight said by telephone. We certainly hope that New York will be a trendsetter and that more states will do this.
The environmental benefits of recycling plastic include not only litter reduction, but energy savings and a reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions. You can get a lot of bang for your buck from deposit laws, Haight said.
Eight other states including Massachusetts are considering bottle bills or extensions of bottle bills to include water.
According to an analysis by the Container Recycling Institute in Culver City, Calif., the deposit program should increase the number of water bottles recycled in New York from 487 million in 2006 to 2.5 billion in 2010, once the program is in effect for an entire year.
According to CRI, only 14 percent of water bottles in New York were recycled in 2006, compared with a 70 percent recycling rate for soft drinks.
CRI said that with the new law, the additional 2 billion water bottles being recycled annually will keep 163.7 million pounds of material out of landfills and incinerators. The energy saved by recycling those containers could pro- vide power to 43,660 households for an entire year, the institute said.
Water bottles account for 25 percent of all beverage sales in New York. The expanded bottle bill applies to all water drinks that don't contain sugar which means that vitamin drinks, iced teas, sports drink, juices and sugared water drinks are excluded.
Deposits apply to all beverage containers under 1 gallon. Bottled water represents 69 percent of all noncarbonated beverages sold in New York.
In May, the bottle bill was challenged in court by the International Bottled Water Association, Nestlé Waters North America and Polar Corp.
Now that the deposit is in place, I think we are just about done in Albany [the state capital], said Tom Lauria, vice president of communications for IBWA of Alexandria, Va. We got rid of the New York state-specific UPC code and got our members a lot more time to get ready for this.
There may or may not be interest in expanding [deposits] to other products, Lauria said. But I don't think we are going to be part of that fight.
A spokeswoman for Nestlé in Greenwich, Conn., said the firm supports the bill, [but] we want to see it expanded further. The company has said that the exclusion of certain beverages puts bottled water at a price disadvantage, and that it would seek to get the bill amended in the next legislative session.
Haight said that Nestlé is very serious about wanting to go back and change the law. But I'd be surprised if anyone wants to reopen this law soon.
Other provisions of the law went into effect Aug. 13. The changes increased fees that distributors pay to grocers, convenience stores and redemption centers for handling bottle returns from 2 cents to 3.5 cents the first increase since 1997.
Also, 80 percent of the unclaimed nickel deposits an estimated $115 million annually now will go to the state, with distributors and bottlers keeping the rest. Before, distributors and bottlers kept all unclaimed deposits.
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