June 21, 2006

Mixed Reviews On Bottle Bill

Not surprisingly, East End shopkeepers are not all supportive of proposed state legislation that aims to provide for the recycling of non-carbonated beverages to reduce roadside litter.

The legislation, which passed in the state assembly, but not the state senate, would allow all non-carbonated beverages, including bottled water, juices, and teas to be redeemed as carbonated beverages for 5 cents each. For doing their part, beverage centers and supermarkets that are required to collect the empties, would be eligible to earn a 2 cent handling fee for each returned bottle.

"It seems, though," said State Senator Kenneth LaValle, who is sponsoring the bill in the senate, "that many businesses are leery" because "they don't seem to think they can handle the number of bottles under the bigger, better bottle bill."

According to statistics, an estimated 1.3 billion fruit beverages, 810 million bottled waters, 290 million teas, and 120 million sports drinks are sold in New York State each year.

Those numbers are all too real at the Southold IGA, where store officials say during the summer, people line up to cash in their bottles in the store's three bottle machines that fill up faster than they can be emptied.

The return rate proves the power of the bottle bill: In New York State, there is a 75 percent return rate on carbonated beverage bottles. That equates to more than 8 billion bottles returned each year, more than half of those being soda containers. The remaining are beer bottles.

"It would be a nightmare if the legislation passes," said Tim Fennelly, owner of Classic Beverage in Hampton Bays.

As the law stands now, said Fennelly, the beverage center already has to use valuable retail space to take in carbonated beverage containers. Not to mention he has to pay someone to man the recycling area. "There is no real monetary gain," he said. Well, he half-joked, except for the guys that make a living off returning bottles. Some of them, he said, earn as much as $200 a week.

However, understanding the environmental aspects of the legislation, Sennelly instead suggested that the state look to the State of Maine for answers.

According to Fennelly, Maine has opened state-funded recycling centers that accept all plastic and glass empties. In return for recycling, residents can earn cash or credits towards their property taxes.

LaValle said he is trying to work out an agreement with the retailers to find a solution. One idea is to increase the 2 cent handling fee.

"We are trying to get their support and understand they are looking at this in terms of profitability. We want to engage them."

But even that may not be enough for Terence McCulley, owner of Peconic Specialty Beverage in Southampton. He said, "It's for a great cause, but for me personally, I don't like the bottle bill."

McCully's main gripe is that many of the bottles returned to his store are from other shops. He said, "It's like someone going into Saks Fifth Avenue and returning something they bought at JC Penny."

But what really irks McCully is that while the law states that if a business sells a carbonated beverage, it must accept the beverage bottle when it is empty, many businesses do not. He said, "If you walked into 7-Eleven with a garbage bag of empties, they would send you away."

That doesn't seem to bother Dan Kaelin, owner of Poliwoda Beverage in Southold. In fact, he welcomes recycling and the proposed bottle bill. He believes he will have the ability to increase retail sales under the not-yet-approved legislation. He said, "If we get people in here to recycle, they will also buy products here."

Many times, he pointed out, people use the money they got back from recycling to buy beer and/or soda. And with nearly 2.5 billion bottles of non-carbonated beverages sold in New York each year, certainly there is money to be made.

And while he knows it will be more work, especially in terms of collecting water bottles, which sell well especially in the summer — he can go through 50 to 60 cases on any given weekend — he is all for the bottle bill. "I think it is the greatest thing in the world."

And statistics prove bottle deposits help keep litter off the streets. According to the Bigger Better Bottle Bill Campaign in 1983, the year after the first bottle bill went into effect, beverage container litter declined in New York by 70 percent.

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