Some environmental initiatives make economic sense only over the long term. New York state’s bottle law made economic sense from the day it was adopted in 1982, and still does. So would its expansion, the subject of a bill in the Assembly.
This wouldn’t be the first expansion, of course. Remember the “Bigger, Better Bottle Bill” of 2009? That turned out to be more like a “Little Bigger, Little Better Bottle Bill” — because the proposed addition of such items as juice, ice tea and sports drinks was dropped, and the only beverages besides beer, soda and wine coolers that now get a nickel deposit on their containers are water and flavored water.
The Assembly bill would include those containers that should have been included the first time. With beer and soda containers now largely gone from our parks and roadsides because consumers either return them or scavengers pick them up for the deposit, and water bottles becoming less of a problem for the same reasons, it’s mostly those other containers that remain to litter the countryside and clog landfills.
Avoiding the cost of collecting and disposing of that waste makes economic sense. So does creating jobs in the recycling industry to handle and process the containers. So does giving consumers an incentive to return them with that deposit. And so does creating badly needed revenue for the state by letting it take 80 percent of the unclaimed deposits, instead of having the beverage industry keep all of them, as was the case before 2009.
The Assembly bill would raise $10 million to $15 million and give $5 million of it to the state’s Environmental Protection Fund, which pays for a range of environmental projects at the local level.
That fund, now at $134 million, has been cut badly in recent years, and only now is Gov. Cuomo proposing to restore some of it, about $19 million, with — guess what? — unclaimed deposit money. Cuomo’s increase seems likely to happen because the Assembly and Senate budget proposals call for the same.
The Senate and governor should also get behind the Assembly’s bill, which makes not only environmental but economic sense. The only thing that would be better would be to raise the deposit to 10 cents, a move that would raise more money for the state and is due after 30 years at the same level. Consumers’ up-front costs would rise, but if they return their bottles, they’ll get that money back. Simple and fair.