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Should New York's bottle deposit law be updated? Advocates say yes

Red wine bottle laying on a shelf in a closeup photo - labels are not visible
New Africa
Bottles of wine arranged on a shelf.

Advocates who want to expand the state’s decades-long bottle deposit law testified Monday at a hearing held by the New York State Senate and Assembly, saying adding more categories of containers would reduce the use of plastics and ease burdens on municipal landfills.

New York’s 1982 bottle law, which placed a 5-cent deposit fee on containers for carbonated soft drinks and beer, was expanded in 2009 to include plastic water bottles.

But environmental advocates say New York’s law could be broader and include wine bottles, liquor bottles and other plastic beverage containers.

Before the hearing, Erica Smitka with the League of Women Voters demonstrated how containers that are both made of plastic and are of similar size are treated differently. 

In one hand, she held a container that holds soda pop or another carbonated soft drink. In the other is a type of bottle that normally contains orange juice, iced tea, or lemonade.

Erica Smitka, legislative director for the New York State League of Women Voters, demonstrates what she says is the need to expand the state's bottle deposit law.
Karen DeWitt
New York State Public Radio
Erica Smitka, legislative director for the New York State League of Women Voters, demonstrates what she says is the need to expand the state's bottle deposit law.

“They're both plastic bottles. They both have similar plastic tops,” Smitka said. “They look identical, truly. The only difference is that one can be redeemed for 5 cents, and the other cannot and goes pretty much straight to the landfill.”

Smitka said changing the law could encourage more people to redeem their bottles, increasing the chances that they will be recycled and reused properly.

“It could help increase New York state's redemption rate from 64% to 90%, which is a huge increase when we really only continue to create waste,” she said.

Blair Horner with the New York Public Interest Research Group said the deposit amount should be higher, too. He said that would incentivize people to not just throw the deposit bottles into the regular recycling or trash.

“A nickel in 1983 is not what a nickel is in 2023,” said Horner, who added that if the deposit amount were adjusted for inflation, it would be 15 cents now.

The advocates are asking Gov. Kathy Hochul to include the proposal in her new budget plan, which is due in January.

Hochul said she hasn’t made a decision about whether to include it.

“I understand the interest in it,” Hochul said. “We're still in the early stages of formulating our budget.”

The governor said she and her team are still “pressure-testing” a number of proposals before they make a final decision. 

Opponents include the liquor industry and grocery store chains. They say it would increase their expenses for handling deposit containers. They also say wine and liquor bottles don’t contribute to waste and recycling problems the way that plastic bottles do.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.