Billions of bottle and can deposits go unclaimed in New York

Jon Campbell

Democrat & Chronicle

Dec 20, 2017

Those bottles and cans you've been meaning to return can really add up, and the state has the numbers to prove it.

New York collected more than $102 million in 5-cent deposits that went unclaimed during the state's 2016 fiscal year, according to a new audit Wednesday from state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

That amounts to more than 2 billion recyclable containers that went unreturned in a single year.

New York charges a 5 cent deposit on many bottles and cans that hold less than a gallon, including sodas, beers and juices.

But each year, millions of dollars worth of deposits go unclaimed.

Under state law, the state keeps 80 percent of those unclaimed deposits and the "deposit initiator" — in most cases, the bottler or distributor — keeps the other 20 percent.

In his audit, DiNapoli's office found 39 of the state's 356 active deposit initiators hadn't filed any quarterly returns with the state and eight others missed at least one quarter.

He called on the state Department of Taxation and Finance to step up its monitoring of the program.

"The department needs to do a better job collecting the money that could be used to protect and preserve our state's natural resources, parkland, waterways and beaches," DiNapoli said in a statement.

The Tax Department noted it levied more than $4 million in tax, penalties and interest during the three-year stretch the audit examined.

"The Department will review the red flags identified in this report and will take corrective action as appropriate," Edward Chaszczewski, deputy commissioner for the Office of Processing and Tax Payer Services, wrote to the Comptroller's Office.

The $102 million state share of unclaimed deposits in fiscal 2016 was less than the previous year according to the audit.

In fiscal 2015, the state's share was more than $107 million.