OSWEGO — At the start of this year’s state legislature, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced an expansion to the current state Bottle Bill that would allow a larger catalog of plastic containers to qualify for five-cent redemption, but county officials and solid waste experts are saying the expansion of the bill at the state level could cut into counties’ revenue streams.
The proposed evolution of the Returnable Container Act, legislation allowing people to return empty containers for refund to any dealer who sells the same brand, type and size, would allow for sports, energy and fruit and vegetable drink containers and ready-to-drink coffee and tea bottles to be eligible for five-cent redemptions.
While Gov. Cuomo’s proposal on the state website is quoted as “helping reduce sorting and financial burdens on local government recycling programs,” Oswego County Administrator Phil Church said during the March meeting of the county’s financial and personnel committee that the bill could potentially dig into the county’s revenue stream.
“One of our revenues sources is recycling and plastics are part of that stream,” Church said in an interview with the Palladium-Times on Wednesday. “The Bottle Bill would take some of those plastics, up to 50 percent of them, out of the recycling stream, so that cuts our revenue.”
In Oswego County, recycling is currently operated by the Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Authority.
County Department of Solid Waste Director Mark Powell explained the market fluctuates month to month but currently, the county does not break even.
In the month of February, Oneida-Herkimer’s processing fee was valued at $70.35 per ton. The materials gathered by the county, however, only amounted to $57.33 per ton.
“Right now, the material is not worth what it costs to process it,” Powell said. “The products they'll take out with the expanded bottle bill are some high-value products, so the blended cost will be worth even less if you take out more of the valuable products out of that component.”
A partnership of recycling giants in the state and state organizations, such as Casella, Buffalo Recycling, Republic Services and the New York State Business Council, said in a response memo that local governments could suffer a collective loss from their respective recycling programs of over $42 million annually.
The memo drafted by the consortium states that the expansion could “blow a hole in many municipal budgets while they struggle to keep recycling afloat.”
In a statement opposing Cuomo’s proposal, President of the state’s Association for Solid Waste Management (NYSASWM) Stephen McElwain said that the global market has taken a toll on local governments in terms of keeping environmentally friendly programs alive.
"Solid waste entities have put forth a lot of time, effort, and money to carry out state and local recycling initiatives," McElwain 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.”
A counter proposal floated out by the New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC) that counties could support, Church said, is to instead expand the current Bottle Bill to support glass containers.
Andrew Radin, director of waste reduction and recycling for the Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency (OCRRA) said in a release the current bottle deposit program could ensure the glass is safe enough to become a bottle after undergoing a recycling process.
“More glass redeemed for deposits increases cleaner recycling and provides much needed relief for local recycling programs," Radin said.
The inclusion of aluminum and glass containers to the expanded Bottle Bill could alleviate other sets of issues for recyclers, Church said: because of its shatter hazard, glass could pose a threat to the machinery employed during recycling processes.
NYSAC Executive Director Stephen Acquario said in response to Cuomo’s bill that the revenue that could flourish from NYSAC’s proposed amendment to Cuomo’s bill could be used to bring recycling infrastructure to current standards, as well as support other programs and educational initiatives.