ALBANY — New York's county governments have concluded Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposal to expand mandatory deposits on beverage containers would hit municipal recycling programs with an "undue burden" because it would sharply lower the financial value of the waste stream they handle.
The New York State Association of Counties, in a new position paper released Friday, said it is urging Cuomo and lawmakers to modify Cuomo's proposal. But the association also called for extending bottle deposits to glass containers for liquor, wine and hard cider.
Cuomo has signaled he wants further study on widening the existing "bottle bill" to cover bottles for liquor and wine.
As part of his $175.2 budget proposal, Cuomo is seeking to have the state put a five-cent deposit on most non-alcoholic containers such as sports drinks, energy drinks, fruit and vegetable beverages, and ready-to-drink bottled tea and coffee.
The governor's legislation would exempt containers for dairy drinks and infant formula.
The Association of Counties argued the expansion of the types of containers that would carry a deposit would crimp revenue for solid waste programs because it would remove as much as 50 percent of the "valuable plastic and aluminum" from the recycling stream.
The group noted the proposal comes at a time when recyclable materials have been impacted by policy changes in China — which has become a destination for much of the waste generated in the United States — that has led to a substantial drop in the value of paper and the "traditional recycling stream." The drop in prices for recycled paper has already pinched those programs to the tune of some $40 million, the association said
"We oppose the Governor's proposal to take value out of the curbside bin at a time when global market changes have made it difficult for local entities to continue providing these environmentally-beneficial programs," said Stephen McElwain, president of the New York State Association for Solid Waste Management, which represents the municipal programs.
Container deposits are intended to provide a financial incentive for recycling, with advocates suggesting they provide a way to recover materials at a lower cost than curbside collections.
Cuomo's proposal, representing the governor's first effort to expand existing bottle legislation, faces competition at the statehouse with a measure proposed by Assemblyman Steven Englebright, D-Long Island, the chairman of the Assembly Environmental Protection Committee.
Englebright's proposal would also add the list of juice, energy drinks and beverage containers Cuomo targets for deposits, but would also wrap in the glass wine and liquor bottles that are exempt under current law.
Stephen Acquario, the director of the Association of Counties, said the best approach is to include only glass containers in the proposed expansion. He noted that extending the Bottle Bill to wine and liquor bottles would divert more than 150,000 tons of glass to the deposit system and increase revenue that could benefit recycling efforts while also supporting environmental and education initiatives.
But Liz Moran of the New York Public Interest Research Group said the amount of waste going into landfills could be curbed by embracing the more comprehensive proposal advanced by Englebright.
"This comes at a time when we are facing a plastic pollution crisis," Moran said. Reducing the amount of glass in recycling bins left at curbs would lead to cleaner streets in New York, she contended.
At a hearing on Cuomo's proposed budget, state Environmental Commissioner Basil Seggos contended that expansion of the deposit requirement to fruit, energy and tea drinks will ultimately benefit the municipal programs now coping with "a very significant global crisis."
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach him at email@example.com.