New York is one of 15 states whose legislation includes beverage container deposit laws. Consumers who purchase certain beverages pay a 5 cent deposit on each container they buy. Retailers then refund consumers who return their empty containers. Recently, Governor Cuomo proposed an expansion of the existing deposit law to include most non-alcoholic beverage containers.
The expansion is intended to encourage recycling among consumers, who are incentivized to return their glass and plastic bottles to be recycled. Cuomo argues that by including sports and energy drinks, fruit and vegetable beverages, and pre-made coffee and tea in the deposit program, the bill will reduce littering and limit the environmental effects of consumer plastics. The Nature Conservancy praised the expansion of the Bottle Bill, which they hope would reduce pollution, an outcome they “strongly support.”
The Bottle Bill has seen tremendous success since its first passage in the 80s. Its amendment in 2010 gained support from several environmental groups including the Sierra Club, Environmental Advocates of New York, and the Citizens’ Campaign for the Environment. A subsequent amendment reduced streetside litter by 70% and resulted in the recycling of 336 thousand tons of plastic, glass, and aluminum.
The bill seems to be universally regarded as “well-intentioned,” but opponents cite the economic cost it will impose as a reason to prevent its passage. Expanding the types of beverages accepted by the deposit program would result in a $10 million loss of curbside bin value across the state. Recycling centers are already facing difficult market conditions given China’s decision to limit the paper they accept from US recyclers. An additional loss of value could push recyclers into unnecessary hardship.
The Middle Ground
Part of the proposed bill focuses on banning plastic bags, which is supported by the New York State Association of Counties. They propose that the bill be altered, offering a solution that would benefit both the environment and US recyclers:
Instead of adding non-alcoholic beverage containers to the Bottle Bill, we urge the State to add a deposit to all glass beverage containers, including wine and liquor bottles, glass hard cider bottles, and non-alcoholic glass beverage containers in order to increase glass recycling, reduce municipal recycling costs, and reduce glass contamination in the curbside recycling stream.
Reducing the amount of glass in curbside recycling bins protects other materials from being contaminated with broken glass. With fewer interruptions and repairs, recycling centers can maintain efficiency and cost-effective practices.