The state budget was inches from the finish line, but environmental advocates weren't wasting any time to start the fight for legislation to reduce plastic packaging and expand recyclable bottles in New York before the session ends next month.
Emmy and Tony Award-winning actor Blythe Danner joined hundreds of people who met with lawmakers Tuesday to ensure two bills to reduce plastic pollution and expand recycling statewide pass the Legislature within the next five weeks.
"A lot of the people here, especially those with gray hair, like mine, remember the '60s and the '70s when I would go to the one recycling place downtown and bring my boxes of bottles and papers, and my husband would just shake his head and say, 'You're absolutely cuckoo,'" Danner said.
About 60 organizations, including the New York Public Interest Research Group, met with lawmakers Tuesday to put on the pressure to pass the Packaging Reduction and Recycling Infrastructure Act and the Bigger Better Bottle Bill and send it to Gov. Kathy Hochul's desk as soon as possible.
The Packaging Reduction and Recycling Infrastructure Act would limit single-use plastic products for companies that sell packaged goods and charge them a fee to use them. The money would go into a new Waste Reduction and Reuse Infrastructure fund to increase waste recycling and better infrastructure.
Danner, of New York City, has fought for environmental and climate justice for decades.
"We have been buried alive by our garbage and poisoned by our plastics," she said. "As one of the young women pointed out, so much of what they make of plastics, is toxic."
Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee chair Deborah Glick sponsors both measures.
"The thought is that, over time, the incentive will be to make your packaging smaller and more recyclable and that you will use recycled materials in it, and that goes up and your costs go down over time," Glick said. "The problem that we have is primarily with plastic, which was an innovation because it was lightweight and it wasn't breakable."
Her so-called Bigger Better Bottle Bill would allow noncarbonated beverage containers, coffee, liquor, cider and dairy products to be recycled and increase the current 5-cent redemption to 10 cents.
The current law has decreased litter by up to 70%. The bill would be the first significant update to the state's bottle return and deposit law since 2009 when water bottles were added.
President of Beyond Plastics Judith Enck says plastic is in nearly all packaging products and can't be reused or effectively recycled.
New York's 10 waste incinerators burn trash from across the state, including plastics, leading to higher greenhouse gas emissions and pollution that results in higher rates of cancer and chronic disease.
At its current rate, plastic production is set to double over the next 20 years.
"Plastics is the new coal," Enck said. "We did a report last year documenting that by 2030, we're going to have more greenhouse gas emissions from plastic production use and disposal than from the smokestacks of coal plants."
The 2019 Climate Act requires the state to achieve 70 percent renewable energy by 2030; 100 percent zero-emission electricity by 2040; a 40-percent reduction in statewide greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2030, an 85-percent reduction from 1990 levels by 2050; and net-zero emissions statewide by 2050.
Republican lawmakers continue to warn their colleagues about the expected cost increases and impact on people's wallets.
Costs of goods are expected to go down over time, but Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay is wary such proposals would have their intended environmental impact and just burden middle-class New Yorkers.
"You look at the legislation and you look at the fiscal note. It says 'undetermined.' I'm going to tell you and tell all New Yorkers: There's a cost to all these things," Barclay said. "And maybe the bottle bill alone in a vacuum isn't all that costly, but it adds up when you keep putting more and more regulations on everybody."
Environmental leaders today argued large beverage companies and other industries will be fighting hard against these efforts, but they are more than capable of affording packaging New York products in this more sustainable way because these mandates have already existed for years in Canada and Europe.