Bottled water may disappear from store shelves across the state June 1 unless the expanded bottle bill law is changed, industry association officials said.
The Bigger Better Bottle Bill, signed into law in April, adds single-serving water bottles to the list of containers eligible for the nickle redemption. It also requires all New York deposit containers — including the just-added water bottles — to have a universal product code label unique to the state. The provisions take effect June 1.
Officials with the food and beverage industry say they will not be able to meet the June 1 deadline, especially for bottled water, and that as a result stores will not stock water bottles after that date.
“We don’t know if the Legislature and the governor’s office are going to postpone the June 1 effective date. If they don’t, the [state] Department of Environmental Conservation was direct in telling us that retailers cannot sell bottled water unless labeled with the 5-cent redemption coupon,” said Michael Rosen of the Food Industry Alliance of New York State. The FIA represents the grocery industry.
The DEC is charged with enforcing the Bigger Better Bottle Bill, which amended the state’s environmental conservation law. Approximately 3.2 billion containers of bottled water are sold annually statewide, according to various sources.
Jim Calvin, of the New York Association of Convenience Stores, said for the bottling and distribution industry it is logistically impossible to relabel millions of water bottles by June 1. The law gave them 60 days to make sure the bottles have a New York-specific bar code. The association represents 7,700 stores in New York.
“There are serious logistical problems with the supply chain. Bottlers of bottled water don’t bottle it and label it a day before it reaches our stores. They bottle it and label it three or six months before it reaches our stores,” Calvin said. The relabeling requirement will cost the industry millions of dollars, he said.
William Cook, of the Citizen Campaign for the Environment, said his group is sympathetic to industry concerns but remains firm on key provisions of the legislation.
“We have a concern when there is any attempt to reopen the existing language. We recognize it may be an issue as far as the phase-in time. If it is a real issue and the industry can demonstrate it needs an extra 30 days, we do not object to that. And if they can demonstrate the bar code is an issue, do away with it,” Cook said.
“Where we will come into play is if they change the core provisions of the law: bringing water bottles into the system and giving the state extra revenues,” he said. The law gives the state 80 percent of uncollected nickels and 20 percent to distributors, instead of the distributors keeping 100 percent as before.
The bottling and distribution industry fought the Bigger Better Bottle Law, Calvin said, but when they lost the battle “our job now is to comply and we want to succeed. In order to succeed we need to have enough lead time to comply with requirements.”
Rosen said both the Assembly and state Senate have introduced legislation to amend the bottle bill. Legislation by Sen. Carl Kruger, D-Brooklyn, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, would push the start date back to Jan. 1 and repeal the New York-specific bar codes. Assemblywoman RoAnn M. Destito, D-Oneida, is co-sponsoring the legislation.
A second piece of legislation by Assemblyman Robert K. Sweeney, D-Suffolk, postpones the date until Jan. 1 but leaves the bar code measure in place.
Rosen said the industry supports Kruger’s measure. The Legislature will take up the measures next week, he said.
The proposed legislation does not affect Gov. David Paterson’s executive order to phase out state spending on single-use and cooler-sized bottled water at state agencies. The order is expected to save the state hundreds of thousands of dollars. However, it does not apply to the state Legislature, judiciary or sale of bottled water in state parks.