Anniversaries often bring about retrospection. And retrospection often brings change.
In retrospect, New York’s Bottle Bill – which celebrates its 40th year in 2022 – has been a great success.
It’s helped removed billions of plastic and glass containers from our roadsides, waterways, wooded areas and landfills, reducing the scourge of litter and protecting the environment and ecosystems.
Since it was enacted in 1982 under the administration of Gov. Hugh Carey (yes, that long ago), roadside container litter has been reduced by 70%, and in 2020 alone, 5.5 billion containers were recycled.
Passage of the bill also helped usher in the expansion of municipal recycling efforts, which has resulted in even less litter and an even cleaner environment.
Now, on this latest anniversary of the Bottle Bill, environmental groups and others are calling for the bill to be updated, both to include more types of bottles that can be redeemed for deposit and to increase the original 5-cent deposit so as to encourage more returns and to help pay for recycling efforts and enforcement.
When the bottle bill was passed 40 years ago, it only covered a limited number of containers – beer, soda, wine coolers and water containers. But in those years, the beverage industry has expanded to include non-carbonated beverages such as sports drinks, iced tea and plastic alcohol bottles.
Wine and liquor bottles also are a problem, so environmental advocates want to include them in the new all-encompassing bill.
In addition, that 5-cent deposit isn’t the incentive to recycle that it was in 1982, so advocates want it raised to at least 10 cents. That’s a small additional price to pay to get these containers out of the environment, even with inflation being what it is.
The additional money could be used to support recycling programs, enhance compliance and help promote returns in low-income areas.
But despite the many benefits, there are issues that will have to be addressed before lawmakers substantially expand the bill.
First, can redemption centers, including stores, handle the extra load? Recycling machines cost money, take up space and require staff to empty and service them.
The addition of more types of beverage containers also could overwhelm recycling businesses, as well as take away containers from municipal recycling operations that generate revenue for them. Some type of revenue sharing of the higher bottle deposits might be needed to offset the counties’ losses.
Expanding the Bottle Bill will not be as simple as adding containers and raising the deposit. It will take consideration and solutions to offset impacts of the changes on those businesses and municipalities that will be affected.
Updating the Bottle Bill is long-overdue.
The state should do it, but do it right.