Laura Haight, NYPIRG, 518-436-0876

Timothy Logan, NYCEJA, 212-239-8882

Expand New York's Bottle Bill and Recapture Unclaimed Deposits


New York's Returnable Beverage Container Law, a.k.a. the "Bottle Bill," was enacted in 1982 and went into effect September 12, 1983. G. Oliver Koppell, now a New York City Council member, was the lead sponsor in the State Assembly.

New York was the ninth state to require mandatory deposits for beverage containers of at least 5-cents per container. The law first covered carbonated soda, beer, and ale; it was later expanded to include wine coolers. The purpose of the Bottle Bill is not to create a new tax, but rather to create economic incentives for the collection and return of these containers. This in turn was expected to reduce litter, ease the burden on New York’s solid waste facilities, and encourage recycling activities.

By all accounts, the Bottle Bill has been tremendously successful in each of these goals, and has created new jobs in the process. The Bottle Bill has resulted in at least a 70% reduction in litter. Reductions in litter have provided safer, more attractive streets and public areas, while reducing sanitation costs for street cleaning, park maintenance, etc. The returned containers are relatively uncontaminated, and therefore the majority returned are recycled rather than disposed of. It has achieved this goal without added burdens to New York's municipalities.

Benefits to New York City of the Bottle Bill

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has said he will seek to replace the Bottle Bill deposit system with a five-cent tax on containers. This proposal, which would require action by the State Legislature, ignores the success of the Bottle Bill redemption program and how it continues to benefit New York City:

A Potential New Revenue Stream for New York's Recycling

If the Mayor is looking for money from the Bottle Bill, he need only look as far as the unclaimed nickel deposits. Currently, unredeemed deposits remain in the possession of the bottlers or distributors who originated the deposit. These interests have vigorously opposed previous efforts by the state to tap into this potential source of funding for recycling and other environmental programs. As can be seen in the chart below, the stakes are high. According to a report prepared for the DOS in the spring of 2000, there were more than $107 million in unclaimed deposits in New York City alone in the year 2000.

Bottle Bill Redemption Rates, (according to SAIC report for DOS, spring 2000)


Deposits Initiated

Redeemed Amount

Redemption Rate

Unclaimed Deposits



Unredeemed Containers

NYC 1995

$ 289,500,000

$ 200,120,388





NYC 2000 (projected)







This money should be recaptured to fund government programs for recycling and waste prevention, since any unredeemed containers must be collected and redeemed through municipal waste management programs. Two of the states with bottle bills - Massachusetts and Michigan - have mechanisms for recapturing these unclaimed deposits.


The State Legislature should expand the Bottle Bill to include noncarbonated beverage containers, such as water, sports drinks, juice, and iced tea, which were not envisioned when the law was passed twenty years ago. These now comprise a significant portion of our beverage consumption. In New York City alone, the increased captured volume under an expanded Bottle Bill would account for 154,300 tons per year of containers, a net of 7,715 diesel trucks not going through overburdened communities (based upon avg. long-haul trucks carrying 20 tons). This translates to savings in export costs to the City of more than $8,332,200 compared to ending the Bottle Bill as proposed by Mayor Bloomberg (based upon $54/ton export costs of least expensive interim export contract).

In addition, the Legislature should require that unclaimed nickel deposits be returned to the government to fund recycling and other needed environmental programs. According to the most recent DOS figures, in 2000 there were over $107 million in unclaimed deposits originating in New York City alone. This figure would have been even larger under an expanded Bottle Bill. This money would go a long way toward funding and improving New York’s recycling, composting and waste prevention programs. Both Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council should jump on the opportunity to support these measures.

(bottlers are effectively charging $261.50/ton for their own recycling work in NYC – based upon total unclaimed deposits divided by diverted tonnage)