Pass The Bigger Better Bottle Bill

By Senator Rachel May | December 22, 2023

The 48th Senate District sits just east of Seneca Meadows, the largest landfill in New York State. This means that every day, about 1500 tons of waste from New York City travels through my district to become part of the 300-foot tall mound that dominates the landscape and damages the air quality north of Seneca Lake.

We have an opportunity in New York State to take dramatic steps to reduce waste and shift away from the throwaway culture that has resulted in massive, unsightly, malodorous operations like Seneca Meadows. I proudly sponsor the Bigger Better Bottle Bill, which will significantly expand our ability to divert beverage containers from the waste stream. It will also support small businesses, reduce litter, provide a livelihood for thousands of New Yorkers living at the edge of poverty, and generate funds for additional waste reduction efforts.

New York’s Bottle Bill came into effect in 1983, with a 5⍧ refundable deposit on specific beverage containers. In 40 years it has succeeded in diverting billions of containers from the trash. But 40 years is a long time. The value of a nickel is far less than it was in 1983, while the types of beverages we drink out of single-use bottles has expanded exponentially.

Our proposal will raise the refundable deposit to 10⍧ and include everything from sports drinks, juices and flavored water to liquor and wine bottles. Increasing the refundable deposit is important because it will raise the incentive for people to return their bottles and cans, raise the payoff for “canners” who depend on bottle collection for their income, and allow bottle redemption centers to stay in business and pay their workers a living wage. Redemption centers, which operate and employ people in every corner of the state, are hanging on by a thread, because they cannot make ends meet in 2023 on a 1983 economic model.

Adding a more comprehensive list of beverages to the program will also increase participation, pull many more containers out of the trash, and address hazardous and unsightly litter issues. Those liquor and wine bottles that lurk in the bushes in public parks and on road verges will be a thing of the past when it is worth people’s time to collect and return them.

Bottle return systems are far better than curbside collection when it comes to the mechanics and beneficial impact of recycling. More plastic and glass will actually be recycled into new bottles if they are separated before entering the recycling stream. This is good for keeping the toxic byproducts of plastic out of our water and air, and it’s good climate policy because making bottles from recycled plastic or glass is far less energy intensive than making them from scratch. When I visited the Owens-Illinois glass factory in Auburn, they repeatedly stressed that they would love to increase the recycled content of their glass but have trouble finding sources of cullet. The expanded Bottle Bill would help.

We recently held a hearing in Albany about the Bigger Better Bottle Bill. We received invaluable input from stakeholders, including impassioned testimony from redemption center owners desperate for an increase in the handling fee. We also heard concerns from liquor stores and other businesses about the space requirements and collection issues if they need to receive returnables onsite, as well as general concerns about where the money goes from the unredeemed deposits.

We are working on incorporating their concerns into an amended bill for 2024 and hope to get it passed early in the legislative session. Together with additional legislation on packaging reduction, New York can lead the way toward a safer, more sustainable approach to managing the materials we use every day, and away from our reliance on trucking vast amounts of waste to smelly, unsightly, and potentially toxic landfills.

Senator Rachel May represents New York’s 48th State Senate District.