ELIZABETH ERB, HOST: In Albany, politicians are finishing up work on the state’s budget. And some lawmakers think now is the time to modernize New York’s forty-year-old Bottle Bill. Thomas Copeland reports.
THOMAS COPELAND, BYLINE: Oscar Cabralsan is a busy guy.
CABRALSAN: I don’t have time to make interview with you right now because…
COPELAND: No, that's ok keep going keep going keep going.
COPELAND: Oscar is what they call a canner. He gets up very early every day, picks up cans and bottles from the streets of New York and throws them into his shopping cart. Next, he’s come to this redemption center here in Brooklyn to sort everything he’s collected into separate boxes. This box?
CABRALSAN: Thirty-five … forty-three everything, forty-three
COPELAND: How much money?
CABRALSAN: Two dollar and fifteen cents
COPELAND: For every can or bottle that Oscar collects, he gets five cents. That’s the Bottle Bill in action. And when you’re working ten hours a day, that can start to add up.
COPELAND: How much do you make on a good day?
CABRALSAN: Seventy or eighty dollars is good day. Very good day.
COPELAND: And Oscar’s good days might soon get a lot better. State lawmakers are looking at expanding the state’s Bottle Bill. I went to see one of the environmentalists behind the plan.
COPELAND: Hey Ryan.
CARSON: Hey. Great to have you. Thanks for coming by.
COPELAND: This is Ryan Thoresen Carson. He’s the activist coordinating the campaign to boost the Bottle Bill. I met him at his brownstone apartment in Brooklyn. He says there’s two parts to the plan. The first is to double the refund from a nickel to a dime.
CARSON: What we're trying to do is raise the deposit really to incentivize people to bring their bottles and cans back. Right now we're at about a 64% return rate. We think that we could get up to 90%. Just by increasing the deposit by five cents.
COPELAND: So that’s part one. To explain part two, Ryan takes me into his kitchen, where there are sparkly streamers hanging from the ceiling.
COPELAND: So you had a party a couple of days ago?
COPELAND: Okay, and you still got some bottles around?
CARSON: Still get a few bottles around yeah. So I'm opening my fridge. So I can recycle this right here. This is a Lacroix, a Lacroi? I never know how to say these. With this, you know, you would be able to return it. But over here, we have a Tito's vodka bottle. This is made of glass. It is not covered under the program. Glass beer bottles are but things like this vodka alcohol bottle are not covered.
COPELAND: So that’s part two, increase the number of eligible containers to include wine and liquor bottles, plus non-carbonated drinks like coffee, tea and fruit juice. Ryan says that would more than double the number of bottles that could be traded in. But this raises a logistical problem. The way the law works at the moment, anyone who sells a refundable container has to accept it back. Right now, wine and liquor stores don’t get many refunds. But the new plan would change that. And some liquor store owners are nervous.
CORRERA: So right here, I love cabernets from Pasa Robles and Austin Hope is my favorite. Big full body, robust.
COPELAND: What would you drink that with?
CORRERA: Big juicy steak. Medium rare, of course.
COPELAND: Okay, show me where you’re keeping all this stuff.
COPELAND: Michael Correra runs a liquor store in Brooklyn and he leads a city-wide association of liquor stores. He’s worried that if the Bottle Bill grows to include wine and liquor, he just won’t have the space to store all the refunded bottles.
COPELAND: So this is down into the basement?
COPELAND: Down here, the cases of booze are stacked high.
CORRERA: 100% of floor space is used up. Barely enough room to walk up and down the aisles down here. No backyard. And only one entrance in and out of the store as well. I mean, we'd have to turn part of our store over from selling to taking back bottles.
COPELAND: And that means, sales fall.
CORRERA: Potentially, I believe it could put us out of business. This could be a game changer.
COPELAND: Now Ryan, the activist I spoke to earlier, he says that more regular bottle pick-ups or reverse vending machines could solve Michael’s problems, but liquor store owners still aren’t convinced. And some canners are unsure as well. Here’s Ryan Castalia. He runs the redemption center I visited earlier.
CASTALIA: I've heard the concern from sudden canners about increased competition if the deposit is raised. More people are going to participate in that might mean turf issues or people competing for more material.
COPELAND: Oscar, the canner, says raising the refund could double his income, but he would have to work harder to beat the competition.
COPELAND: You would work fourteen hours a day? Fourteen hours a day at sixty-three years old?
CABRALSAN: Yes, I am ready, I am willing to work.
CABRALSAN: No, I feel good, I feel good. Excuse me, I got to go.
COPELAND: Oscar gets back to counting out bottles. And Bottle Bill supporters will be spending the next few days lobbying the Governor to make room in the budget. If they succeed, people might soon think twice before they throw away their cans.
COPELAND: Thomas Copeland, Columbia Radio News