Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Expanded Bottle Bill

Last night the NYS Assembly passed the “Better Bottle Bill,” a law that would expand the types of containers eligible for deposit. Currently, beer, soda and carbonated waters are included while plain water, tea and sports drinks are not. The impetus behind the measure is to increase the levels of recycling and reduce the amounts of street litter.

The only problem here is that the proponents of the bill have no idea what the bottle law has done to food stores in the city. The storage of thousands of dirty containers has caused an incredible sanitation burden for supermarkets, bodegas and green grocers. Very few of the containers are sealed and the cans in particular, with their sugary remains, are a magnet for insects.

A supermarket owner from upstate New York hammers this point home:

In addition to the impact on consumers, expanding the bottle law would force grocers to dedicate even more space to dirty bottles and cans. I can run clean food stores or operate dirty recycling centers, but not both.
The storage burden is, of course, much more severe for inner city stores than for their suburban counterparts. Not only is space at a premium but many of the stores coexist in residential complexes. The storage of containers is exacerbated by the city’s edict that disallows regular store garbage to be stored in outdoor dumpsters. So now your local supermarket has been transformed into a mini waste transfer station that, thanks to the Assembly, will be expanded beyond the capacity of most stores to handle.

That is why we were not emotionally moved by Daniella Gerson’s story of a former crack addict’s life as a can redeemer. It is always compelling to see anyone turn his life around through sobriety and hard work but Gerson’s piece fails to adequately portray the burden that the law places on already overburdened store owners.

The problem isn’t with Jean Rice and her pursuit of a living redeeming deposit containers. The problem lies with a legislature that is unable to come up with creative ways to expand the deposit system without placing the onus on small store owners. When we worked with the Empire State Beer Distributors we had proposed on numerous occasions a centralized deposit bank system that would facilitate the creation of an infrastructure of redemption centers and the removal of containers from neighborhood stores. Such a system could reduce waste, expand economic activity in the neighborhoods and relieve shopkeepers all at the same time.