Op-Ed | The Bottle Bill is bad for the industry and bad for consumers

MD Update

Legislation was recently proposed in New York’s legislature to expand the state’s bottle bill (S.237C/A. 6353). A major part of this proposal is doubling the deposit fees paid for each beverage container that we recycle in our state. The Food Industry Alliance of New York State, which represents the full spectrum of the retail food industry in New York, has significant concerns with this bill and enacting into law would be a significant misstep by Albany.

The retail food industry and our consumers continue to grapple with unpredictable and fiscally challenging times. From the high cost of doing business, to inflation concerns and labor challenges, both consumers and the retail food industry are looking to lawmakers for help. Unfortunately, this bill will only exacerbate the financial strain on working families and businesses alike. That’s simply irresponsible.

The proposal to increase the deposit fee would be a terrible deal for our consumers. It would cause them to have to pay significantly more upfront for beverages. An additional cost would be tough to bear for most families, especially when you add it up across a grocery bill. Despite our industry’s continued best efforts, significant supply chain disruptions, increased production costs and a host of other issues are contributing to increased food costs.  Enacting this bill will further increase costs on consumers.

The impact on retail food operators, including smaller and independent stores, would be equally severe. Increased costs could force these businesses to cut expenses drastically. That could lead to job losses and reduced hours for workers. Those jobs offer wages and benefits that allow thousands of New Yorkers to support their families and communities. Legislators must not sacrifice the livelihoods of our retail food workers, who’s exemplary services helped us all during the recent public health crisis.

What makes this bill particularly tragic is that it will do this damage without even fixing the current bottle deposit system. As most New Yorkers know, the deposit system is fundamentally broken. It’s outdated, it loses money, and it has failed to convince people to recycle. More than $100 million worth of bottles go unreturned each year. The system is also prone to fraud, which costs local businesses millions more each year.

This legislation would, if anything, make the system even worse. It would impose approximately $160 million in new costs annually by raising deposit fees – costs that would get passed on to consumers in higher prices. Yet it would not improve the convenience or efficiency of the bottle deposit system at all. 

Simply making the system bigger and more expensive without addressing its underlying issues solves nothing. We need a fundamental overhaul to fix it, not a rush to pass a bill in the closing weeks of our legislative session. The recycling system New Yorkers deserve would reduce the financial burden on consumers and businesses, reduce opportunities for fraud, and make recycling convenient and efficient. 

Other states have accomplished this. Oregon boasts the nation’s highest redemption rate at 86%, and they did it by focusing on efficiency and consumer convenience. New York should try a similar approach.

Improving recycling rates doesn’t have to depend on raising costs for working families, businesses and their employees. New York can do better than that. I urge lawmakers to reconsider this proposal, which would be a major step back for the people who make our state great. Let’s focus on creating a recycling system that is efficient, effective and equitable. New York can protect the environment while ensuring that all stakeholders —consumers, businesses and the environment — benefit.

Michael Durrant is President and CEO of The Food Industry Alliance.