Changes to the bottle bill as proposed in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address were not included in the recently concluded state budget. The proposal, which would expand the Returnable Container Act and add a 5¢ deposit to most non-carbonated beverages, wine, spirits, and hard cider. The bottle bill has proven track record of solid waste diversion and litter prevention.
In 2016, 5.1 billion containers with deposits were returned for recycling. Since beverage containers are PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic, glass, or aluminum, the system effectively presorts these items into a ready-for-recycling source for processors to prepare for its next use. Any unclaimed deposits are dedicated to the state’s Environmental Protection Fund. So, with all of the positives (and the blessing of the governor), why hasn’t this bill passed?
The answer, so far, is municipal recycling programs. With the Chinese ban on plastic waste imports, PET plastic is the only thing that keeps local recycling going. With all of the other commodity pricing nose-diving in 2018, PET plastic prices stabilized at a much higher rate, allowing recycling programs to remain less costly than garbage pickups. This is primarily due to the influence of large beverage bottlers committing to an increased recycled content in their bottles. This will only increase the price as their commitments drive demand for the recycled stock.
The bottle bill, in its present form, does not protect local communities from a second recycling price shock. Without the PET plastic, municipalities may be forced to abandon recycling programs as it will cost more to collect recyclables separate than it would to add these to the regular garbage pickup.
New York State legislators should consider refunding the additional bottle bill revenue to municipalities to cover the additional costs for recycling programs due to the lost revenues of PET plastic containers.
John S. Szalasny