ALBANY—Billed as an environmental measure, efforts to require a deposit for juice and water containers never got very far. Now, it's being put forward, somewhat controversially, as an untapped revenue stream in a tight fiscal circumstance.
One nickel at a time.
Budget officials say those nickels would add up to $25 million this year, and $118 million in the next fiscal year. An expanded bottle bill is in David Paterson's plan – granted, in the back – to bridge a $1.5 billion end-of-year budget deficit and cut spending for the next budget cycle.
"It may be that it takes an economic crisis to get the bigger better bottle bill passed," said Laura Haight, senior environmental associate at the New York Public Interest Research Group, which has long advocated the bottle bill's passage. She said it would bring in even more money than the budget office projected, and would reduce litter and increase recycling by giving consumers a financial incentive not to throw away their garbage.
Here's the money trail now: you buy a six pack of Rheingold, and pay an additional 30 cents in deposits (5 cents times 6 bottles). If you're a responsible citizen, you enjoy the Rheingold responsibly, rinse the bottles and return them to the nearest grocery store, which gives you back your 30 cents. The grocery store keeps 12 cents (2 cents per bottle) as a handling fee, and the same distributors that brought you your Rheingold take away the bottles.
If, however, the bottles end up with the rest of the garbage, or lost, or smashed, the beer distributors keep your 30 cents, and use it to offset what it costs them to cart away the responsible citizen's bottles.
The new proposal would send the thirty cents to the state coffers. Additionally, it would put deposits on everything from Snapple to orange juice containers, increasing the amount of things New Yorkers can return to stores.
The measure was introduced in more flush times by then-Governor Eliot Spitzer twice. Both times it was killed during the budget process. The Assembly had also previously passed the bill, but it never cleared the Senate, where grocery stores and distributors killed it. They remain opposed.
"What the governor wants to do is to expand the mandate and remove all the funding," said Jonathan Pierce, a spokesman for New Yorkers for Real Recycling Reform. He said distributors would have to hike prices by about 5 cents per container to cover the loss of the revenue they get now, plus the five-cent deposit that consumer will have to pay on apple juice and bottled water.
"It's a tax. It's going to cost consumers more money, and this is absolutely the wrong time to be increasing taxes on food," Pierce said. "And it's betting that people won't recycle."
It's a very tough sell to make in tight fiscal times. Senate Republicans have long sunk the expanded bottle bill, but their rhetoric would indicate they intend to spend their political capital elsewhere fighting proposed reductions in education aid.
Haight put it this way: "The lawmakers have a responsibility – if they're going to be looking at cuts to health care, education, and social services – it's unconscionable that they're not looking at cuts to Coke and Pepsi."