An expanded state bottle bill to include non-carbonated beverage containers in deposit returns may have new life with the resignation of Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, a Republican.
New York state's proposed "Bigger Better Bottle Bill," which would require a 5-cent refundable deposit on non-carbonated beverages such as bottled water, iced tea and sports drinks, failed to get traction in the Senate during the 2008 New York state legislative session, according to a June 27 Environmental Advocates of New York news release.
The bill had the support of Gov. David Paterson, who had asked the state Legislature to enact it by June 30. Unlike Bruno, recently named Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos of Long Island, also a Republican, voted for the original bottle bill.
The Leader-Herald/Richard Nilsen
Chris Bartyzel gestures as he talks about the problem of bottle and can returns at his headquaters in Amsterdam Wednesday.
The Leader-Herald/Richard Nilsen
Marc Hughes sorts empties at Midtown Discount Beverage in Johnstown Wednesday.
Local beverage dealers say the law that put a nickel deposit on carbonated bottles and cans that began in 1982 has resurfaced annually to include non-carbonated containers. It has been stopped in the past, to the delight of Chris Bartyzel, president of Bartyzel Inc., an Amsterdam distributor.
"The bill was passed in the state Assembly, but stopped in the Senate due to Bruno's opposition," Bartyzel said. "Without Bruno, it could pass in the future."
Bartyzel is a third-generation member of the company, which he said began "right after Prohibition ended." He has 42 employees.
"We have a 90- to 92-percent return rate on our products," Bartyzel said. "We deliver about a million cases of product per year."
As a distributor, Bartyzel said he must pay retail collection stores 2-cents per bottle as a handling fee and another penny-and-a-half for bottles and cans fed through machines like those at Hannaford and Price Chopper stores. That extra cost is added to the price of his beverage and passed on to the consumer. He said that cost amounts to about $500,000 per year.
"The whole system is a nuisance to the drivers, who wind up feeling like garbage men picking up dirty bottles and cans," he said. "I have one full-time employee who feeds cans and bottles in our crushers all day long."
He said the high price of aluminum, at 92-cents per pound, up from 50-cents two years ago, helps fund the recycling effort.
"We get $100 a trailer-load for cardboard and $50 for a 40,000-pound load of crushed glass," he said. "Labatt's and Molson bottles are the only ones returned whole for refilling in Canada."
Bartyzel said he started a separate company called Bartyzel Ecology just to handle the recycling.
"There's a problem with cleanliness, fruit flies and the cost of transport," he said. "I'm all for recycling, but I think curbside pick-up could handle it better."
Bartyzel said he thought the litter law could be more comprehensive and that distributors shouldn't be the ones to handle the situation.
"It's not profitable," he said. "I wish it would go away tomorrow."
Marc Hughes at Midtown Discount Beverage in Johnstown said he thought the expanded bottle bill was a good thing, although he admitted it would add to his work load.
"It's better for the environment," Hughes said. "People pick up cans and bottles for the deposit along the road and leave the water bottles because there's no deposit. It makes sense to add water, fruit juice and tea bottles and cans."
He said the storage and sorting of returns always has been a problem.
Drivers delivering beverages who also pick up returns had to map their routes to drop off enough cases to have room for the pick-ups. Still, on balance, he said he thought the deposit law and possible expansion to non-carbonated containers would be good. A slight increase in handling fees that would come to him as part of the new bill would also be helpful, but Hughes said overall, the hassle wasn't worth the small profit margin for his business.
At the Fulton County Department of Solid Waste, Director Jeffrey Bouchard said a certain amount of beverage containers with deposits add to the county's curbside revenues.
"People do pick up containers because of the deposit," he said. "With more containers marked for return, more would get picked up."
Bouchard said if the nickel deposit was added to plastic water bottles, he would definitely try to get the deposit returns for those bottles as added revenue. So far, he has collected $20,000 in deposit returns at the mid-year mark.
Legislation backed by the governor passed the Democrat-controlled Assembly in June, but died in the Senate, where Skelos now leads the narrow Republican majority. Proponents say expanding bottle deposits to non-carbonated beverages, the sheer numbers of which have grown since 1982, should be an environmental priority.
"What he has always said is that all of the sides should come together to develop an approach that balances the interests of the environmental community and consumers who are faced with ever increasing costs," said Scott Reif, a spokesman for Skelos.
Advocates see other potential political shifts, including talks that continued through the end of the legislative session in June about possible compromises. They included adding just water bottles to the list, instead of all non-carbonated drinks, and allowing beverage companies to still keep unclaimed deposits that already amount to about $100 million a year.
In New York, the redemption rate for deposit bottles is nearly 70 percent, compared to 20 percent without deposits, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
Richard Nilsen is a general assignment reporter and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.