MRF operators come out in force against New York bottle bill expansion


Dive Brief:

  • New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's proposed expansion of the state's bottle bill to include non-alcoholic, uncarbonated drinks has run into well-coordinated opposition from the recycling industry and county officials. Following the release of a flyer deeming it a "threat to recycling" in February, opponents hit the capitol in Albany with concerted lobbying this past week.

  • Speaking to the mechanics of maintaining profitability in a post-National Sword business environment, Sims Municipal Recycling (SMR), Waste Management, Republic Services, Waste Connections, Casella Waste Systems, the NWRA and others claimed that the proposal would cut average inbound commodity values by $14.23 per ton due in part to the loss of PET containers.

  • The New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC) has also come out against the proposal, echoing the recycling companies' proposal for a glass-only expansion that would target “wine and liquor bottles, hard cider bottles, and non-alcoholic glass beverage containers." The Natural Resources Defense Council confirmed to Waste Dive it shares the same position.

Dive Insight:

Cuomo's bottle bill plans were introduced in January, alongside a plastic bag ban, in his FY20 budget proposal. Despite arguments that expanding eligibility to non-alcoholic beverage containers such as juice, tea-based beverages and sports drinks will decrease New York’s contribution to landfills and incinerators, the governor's proposal is running into common and concerted industry opposition.

The 10 service providers that signed onto the February flyer claim to process more than 80% of New York's recyclables. According to MRF operators, many of whom have been spending more capital to create cleaner streams, diverting valuable plastic and aluminum containers "pulls the economic rug out from under these investment investments and weakens this infrastructure." Glass, on the other hand, is largely unprofitable, with "less than 20%" being made into new products.

In its rebuttal, SMR outlined another potential spillover effect caused by the plausible reduction of valuable plastics from curbside pickups. Because ongoing recycling of thermoform plastics depends on industry’s ability to supplement the mix with a requisite share of bottle plastic and other PET, a drop in the availability of PET could hamper New York City's ongoing rigid plastic recycling efforts. The company believes this undermines local "zero waste" efforts, concluding that "continuing to remove materials of value from the curbside mix jeopardizes the entire residential recycling model."

While the opposition messaging has thus far garnered more attention, Cuomo's proposal does have its supporters — the Container Recycling InstituteNew York League of Conservation Voters, Citizens Campaign for the Environment and the New York Public Interest Research Group are among multiple organizations that have come out in favor. In one point of agreement, they too would like to see more glass containers included.

With lawmakers in neighboring Connecticut considering a similar bottle bill expansion, the battle in New York will test not just the merits of Cuomo’s appeal to “protect the environment for future generations,” but also the strength of pro-bottle bill arguments in a tightening recycling market. New York's state budget legislation is due for approval by March 31.