Inside the Bigger Better Bottle Bill

We're Getting Mutants in the MCU - The Loop


New York's Bigger Better Bottle Bill (BBBB) expands the existing 5c deposit bottle bill to include bottled water, iced tea, sports drinks, juice, and other non-carbonated beverages (with exemptions for wine, liquor, dairy products, infant formula, and certain other products). The twin goals of the bill are to reduce litter and increase the amount of plastics, glass, and aluminum returned to the recycling stream. The BBBB keeps the per bottle deposit at 5 cents, increases the handling fee paid to retailers, and requires beverage companies to transfer unclaimed deposits (estimated at $100 - $180+ million per year) to the state’s Environmental Protection Fund.

How the deposit system works:

The handling fee and the 5c deposit are separate. The deposit system starts not with the manufacturers of the bottle, but with the people handle the product in the bottle (bottler, or distributer). When the distributor drops off a shipment of a beverage to a retailer, the retailer pays them the deposit on the bottles they take from the distributor (the retailer is down a nickel per bottle and the distributor is up a nickel). When the customer purchases a bottle of a beverage from the retailer they pay the retailer a deposit on the bottles they purchase (the customer is down a nickel per bottle and the retailer is even). When the customer returns the empty bottles to the retailer, they receive a nickel per bottle from the retailer (the retailer is down a nickel per bottle, the customer is even). When the distributor picks up the bottles from the retailer, they pay the retailer a nickel per bottle plus the 2 cent handling fee (BBBB would increase to 3.5c) per bottle. At that point the retailer is even on the deposit and the distributor is even on the deposit.

The distributor is down the handling fee. The distributor knew about the handling fee at the beginning, so presumably they would add 2 cents per bottle to the price they charge the retailer. The retailer and middlemen would then base the price they charge the consumer on the price they pay the distributor for the product.

Advantages of BBBB:

1.Updating the bottle bill to include non-carbonated beverages would ensure that more than 2 billion additional bottles and cans get recycled in New York each year. In plastic bottles alone, this would save almost 600,000 barrels of crude oil and 20,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions. Immediately after the first bottle bill passed, total litter rates dropped by 30%, with a 70% reduction in beverage container litter. Today, non-carbonated beverages make up a quarter of the beverage market, and a disproportionate amount of our litter. Litter surveys conducted by coastal cleanup volunteers (including our own September and March cleanups) found that two-thirds of the bottles and cans polluting New York’s rivers and beaches are non-deposit containers, and these containers make up 20% of the total litter volume. Curbside programs are not effective at capturing single-serve beverage containers, because thirst-quenchers like bottled water and sports drinks are typically consumed and discarded away from home. Only 20% of non-deposit beverage containers end up in recycling bins. In contrast, 80% of deposit containers are recycled - 70% through the bottle bill, and another 10% through curbside programs.

2. Beverage companies are keeping an estimated $85-$140 million a year in unclaimed deposits from bottles and cans that are not returned. Many other states require beverage companies to return unclaimed bottle deposits to benefit the public (Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, California, Hawaii- ask them) The Bigger Better Bottle Bill would direct unclaimed deposits to the State Environmental Protection Fund (EPF), a dedicated trust fund for New York’s environment. The EPF supports local recycling programs, parks, waterfront revitalization, open space, farmland preservation, and other programs to protect our land, air, and water. Currently, New York’s environmental funding needs far outpace existing resources. The Bigger Better Bottle Bill could generate more than $180 million a year to support the Environmental Protection Fund.

3. Container deposit laws provide consistent streams of high quality materials. Materials collected through municipal programs are more likely to be contaminated in ways that make the recycled materials less usable by manufacturers that make things out of recycled materials. Manufacturers that use recycled materials like container deposit laws because they produce reliable streams of high quality recyclable materials. Owens-Illinois, the largest manufacturer of glass containers, supports expansion of the bottle bill.

Drawbacks, problems:

1. The BBBB covers only beverage containers under one gallon- it will not help with other types of recycling. It also excludes some single serve containers like milk containers.

2. The BBBB would increase costs to distributers (and therefore customers). The beverage distributor is the party responsible for picking up the empty containers from the retailer and ultimately recycling the containers. For each container they pay a 3.5 cent handling fee. They have to pay to pick up beverages even if they were not purchased in the state, and must pay the costs of processing and recycling all the material. Currently the unclaimed deposits kept by the distributers may help to buffer these costs. Under the BBBB, these increased costs would be passed onto customers.

Response to Drawbacks:

The idea behind the BBBB is not that the distributors will recoup their costs through the sale of recycled materials, but that the total costs of the life-cycle of the product are built into the price of the product. The Sierra Club has long supported this approach to dealing with waste. It brings market forces to product packaging and the management (in this case recycling) of the waste generated by that packaging. The customer sees the total life cycle, or cradle to grave, cost of making and disposing of the product and its package when they purchase the product. It makes it clear and they can decide if they want to spend that much money for a bottle of water, soda, or beer. In order to lower costs, distributers and bottlers will move towards the most efficiently (cheaply) recycled materials. The existing practice is to place the burden of the costs of disposal on municipalities, and therefore taxpayers. The advantage of the BBBB approach is that it generates much higher rates of recycling (80% vs 20% - saving space in landfills and preventing incinerator emissions) and creates an incentive for people to pick up bottles that may currently be discarded as litter. It puts the costs of disposal solely on consumers of the product, not on every taxpayer, and this pushes the market towards more environmentally friendly solutions.

Legislative Updates

Perhaps the Bottle Bill will fare better in the new NY Senate Environment of 2009. It has failed in the senate every year for decades.

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