Irwin Rosenthal asked: Why does the bottle bill fail every year?
First, some context: Under a longstanding state law meant to incentivize recycling, New Yorkers pay a five cent “deposit” when they buy certain canned or bottled drinks. If you return the bottle, you get the deposit back (and the store or redemption center gets a 3.5 cent “handling fee” for processing the return).
The deposit amount hasn’t budged since the program was set up 40 years ago. Back then, 5 cents were worth a lot more — about 15 cents in today’s dollars. The handling fee hasn’t been increased for fifteen years, either. That means that the incentive to recycle has steadily weakened over time.
For years, lawmakers have introduced a bill to double the deposit, increase the handling fee, and expand the law to cover more beverages. It polls fairly well. Environmental groups, pointing to New York’s overflowing landfills, strongly support it. So do redemption centers, suffering from a wave of closures.
Now, your question. Why does it fail every year? The expanded bill has faced widespread industry opposition: restaurants and other retailers say they don’t have the space to store returned bottles, and beverage distributors, on the hook for the handling fees, warn that they’ll pass on the increased cost to consumers.
Perhaps as a result, neither Governor Andrew Cuomo nor Governor Kathy Hochul have backed it, and the legislature hasn’t prioritized it. (In 2019, Cuomo backed an expansion of what beverages were covered, but not the size of the deposit, but his proposal failed.) The bill would likely have to pass through the state budget process, over which New York Focus readers know the governor exerts substantial control.
But there are signs the bill is gaining momentum. Last year, the Senate included it in its budget proposal. In January, more than 300 business, environmental and civic groups asked Hochul to include it in her executive budget. (She didn’t.)
Asked whether the legislature would include the bill in their “one-house” budget proposals next month, New York Public Interest Research Group executive director Blair Horner said, “Hard to say, but we’re trying!”
—New York Focus climate reporter Julia Rock