Albany Times Union
Reduce, reuse, return
A bottle bill expansion makes sense, but our waste crisis is bigger than that.
New Yorkers are keen on proposals to expand the state’s Returnable Container Act, a Siena poll has found. That’s good to hear, because the bottle bill expansion’s a sensible idea — but it’s not a cure-all, and we’re overdue for some tough conversations about the amount of stuff we buy and throw away.
The survey found that 71% think the program should include more types of beverage containers — wine and liquor bottles, along with bottles for sports drinks, juice, and tea. And 51% support increasing the deposit from a nickel to a dime.
In many ways, the Bigger Better Bottle Bill, as supporters call it, is a no-brainer. The original bottle bill, enacted in 1982, reduced roadside container litter by 70%; that’s a success worth building on. And a dime deposit wouldn’t even catch up to inflation: A 10-cent returnable still wouldn’t have the value it had back in 1982 — a nickel then was worth about 15 cents today.
What’s more, redemption’s a better way to recycle. The curbside bin recycling stream is messier, with non recyclables and trash mixed in; that’s one reason very few recyclables actually get recycled. Redemption is a cleaner stream, making items more recyclable and more marketable to buyers.
The program could also cut costs for local recycling programs. Glass in particular costs more to process than it can be sold for, and taking wine and liquor bottles out of the municipal stream could bring savings, notes an impact report prepared for the Department of Environmental Conservation. How much glass are we talking here? The report notes that in 2015, more than 315,000 tons of glass wine and liquor bottles were sold in New York state.
All in all, it’s disappointing that the expanded bottle bill wasn’t part of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s executive budget, and the Legislature should advance it nonetheless.
However, the bill is just one front in a much larger battle. We’re facing a waste crisis, and recycling alone won’t solve it. …
The solution here won’t come easily: We need to stop producing and consuming so much. Of the “reduce-reuse-recycle” mantra, “reduce” and “reuse” beat “recycle” hands down.
Consumers aren’t the only ones who need to change behaviors. Gov. Hochul’s proposed Waste Reduction and Recycling Infrastructure Act did make it into the budget book; it would put the responsibility for dealing with packaging waste back on the producers. That could prompt changes in how items are packaged. Governments should look for other ways to incentivize redesigns.
The bottom line: We have to stop churning through resources like there’s no tomorrow. Or one day, there won’t be.