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May 10, 2007

The Statesman Journal: Salem, Oregon

Grocers float a new bottle-bill proposal
Their idea would include all drinks containers

The main opponents to expanding Oregon's bottle bill have changed tactics in the 11th hour of the legislative session.

Instead of opposing any expansion, the Northwest Grocery Association is proposing a major overhaul of the entire bottle-bill system.

The grocery association, which represents about 1,100 grocery outlets across the state, announced Wednesday that it would support expanding Oregon's bottle bill to include all beverage containers -- not just the water-bottles-only proposal as written in Senate Bill 707-A.

The caveat: Collection of the containers would be moved out of grocery stores -- and into separate, state-run redemption centers. Also, the funding mechanism would change.

"I am glad to see they have finally come to the table and are supporting a bottle bill, because they have been opposed all along," said Rep. Jackie Dingfelder, D-Portland, who chairs the house committee that is discussing the bottle bill. "But it's very late in the session to be able to craft legislation given our short time frame left."

Dingfelder said SB 707-A, which already has passed the Senate, has amendments that would require a task force to address many of the grocers' issues.

Recycling advocates said they were wary of the grocers' proposal.

"Grocers have been unwilling to talk about any improvements to Oregon's bottle bill including redemption centers, including adding containers, so the question we have to ask is, 'What has changed now?' " said Jeremiah Baumann of the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group. "Is this a workable proposal or does it make too many fundamental changes to a system that works?"

Baumann also said the proposed funding likely would not be enough to establish new redemption centers and run them. The current system eliminates a lot of overhead costs because collection is done in grocery stores. Empty containers are picked up by distributors already making trips to the grocery stores, he said.

Distributors currently charge grocery stores a nickel deposit. Grocery stores charge customers, and customers get five cents back when they return their containers. Distributors pay the grocery store a nickel for every returned container.

Under the new proposal, distributors are taken out of the five-cent-deposit loop and replaced with grocery stores.

"From a distributor's standpoint, they take us totally out of the system, which is fine," said Paul Romain, a lobbyist for the Oregon Beer & Wine Distributors Association. "But the question is, what kind of system are you setting up? The only thing we fear is if the system doesn't work, they are going to want us to come back in."

Romain added that the number of places to return containers would be reduced dramatically, potentially reducing recycling rates.

Wednesday's proposal calls for grocers to make payments in lieu of collecting the containers themselves. Under this funding plan, retailers would transfer the nickel (paid by the consumer), plus a 3-cent-per-container handling fee, to the state -- an estimated $60 million a year. In return, the state would run the redemption centers. The proposal calls for the centers to be established by Jan. 1, 2010.

Grocers for years have complained about sanitation and space issues and have pushed to get the collection of beverage containers out of their stores.

"We are trying to manage fresh produce, fresh meat and bakery goods while managing a recycling center in the same building," said Joe Gilliam of the Northwest Grocery Association during an interview in April.

In the announcement Wednesday, he said the current proposal to add water bottles and keep collection in grocery stores would be a "massive failure."

"If the legislature chooses to reject our alternative, we will take it to the ballot for voter approval," Gilliam said.

bcasper@StatesmanJournal.com or (503) 589-6994


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