If you’re set to bring back a big bag of deposit bottles or cans to the local supermarket or redemption center this week, wish yourself a happy 30th anniversary for doing so. It didn’t begin without controversy as New York’s bottle deposit law took effect on Monday, Sept. 12, 1983.
The law was supposed to begin on July 1, but the state Legislature delayed the implementation, as “it would conflict with the peak beverage selling months, causing numerous problems,” it was reported in The Daily Star of Friday, June 3.
Tom Bouton, manager of Bouton’s Fast Stop in Oneonta, said he was relieved for the extension and admitted the law would be a hassle, but said he thinks, “it’s a good law — we’ll just have to adapt to it.”
Bouton echoed the sentiments of several other local soft drink and beer distributors, saying he was uncertain about the exact details of how the bill would work. “The state hasn’t defined it very clearly for us,” he said.
The whole purpose of the law was to encourage recycling and reduce litter and disposal problems. Consumers were preparing to return marked containers for five cents each. At the start, this was for carbonated beverages only. More recently bottled water and non-carbonated beverage containers became eligible for the nickel deposit.
By August 1983, area beverage retailers began stocking returnable containers in preparation for Sept. 12, as New York became the ninth state with a deposit law. Consumers were warned that they’d see price increases in addition to the deposit because of increased handling costs for the retailers.
Gene Baker, co-manager of five Red Barrel convenience stores, said he was hoping to sell as much of his current inventory over the Labor Day weekend and then begin stocking the returnable containers. Baker was taking a “wait and see” attitude about how he’d handle the deposit law.
“It’s going to be a learning experience,” Baker said.
Not everyone was as diplomatic with proceeding on the new law. Gary Wickham was then the owner/manager of The Little Super market on Route 7 in Colliersville, and said he was thoroughly disgusted with all aspects of the new law, which would be an inconvenience to him and his customers.
“Where am I going to put all those bottles?” Wickham said. “What am I going to do with all the insects the empty bottles draw?”
For P&C food markets, the new law meant costs of $10,000 per store for the former chain’s 65 New York locations, to install counters and equipment to handle the bottle returns.
The new bottle law did have a beneficial impact on the area. It saved a glass recycling program that The Arc Otsego in Oneonta operated at the time. Fred Williams supervised the recycling program and with the new law, four new jobs were created. People had shown so little interest in bringing their glass in for recycling that Arc Otsego had considered closing the recycling facility.
The Arc Otsego then entered a contract with the Southern Tier Association for Recycling and was soon crushing glass taken from three daily truckloads delivered by STAR. The crushed glass was then shipped by the D&H Railway for further processing.
Not long after the law took effect on Sept. 12, the state Department of Environmental Conservation was out making sure the new law was being enforced. The Star reported on Tuesday, Sept. 20 that at least 15 area businesses had been issued written warnings by the DEC. Three officers had been in Otsego County since Sept. 12 making inspections.
“There’s a lot of grumbling,” said DEC Officer Jon F. Karker, who enforced the law in an area stretching from Cherry Valley to Milford, “but 95 percent of the people are behind it. You don’t see the bottles and cans on the roads.”
Youngsters were seen picking up some pocket money from time to time by picking up discarded containers around the area.
Three months later, the Star followed up on area businesses with the new law. On Nov. 28, most contacted said the law had cost them time and money. Ed Johnston, then owner of the Center Street Food Store, said the biggest flaw with the law was that it forced storeowners to pay out refunds on demand, but then required them to wait to be reimbursed by distributors who collected cans and bottles.
Love it or hate it, the law was here to stay.
This weekend, Oneonta in motion pictures.
City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at email@example.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.