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OPB News

Big Changes Proposed For Oregon’s Bottle Bill

When Oregon's first-in-the-nation bottle bill went into effect in 1972, the original intent was to reduce litter.  And it worked.

By paying a nickel deposit on cans and bottles, Oregonians were much more likely to redeem and recycle those bottles and cans than to throw them out on the road.

In fact, the bottle bill has been so successful over the years that Oregon now recycles bottles and cans at nearly three times the rate of states without bottle bills.  As Pete Springer reports, Oregon officials are hoping to boost that rate even higher with a few changes to the historic law.


A nickel here and a nickel there and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.

Fifty-eight million dollars to be exact.  That’s how much Oregon grocery stores paid for bottle and can returns in 2005, the latest year figures are available.

But even with a nickel deposit, Oregonians still throw away 18-percent of their glass bottles and aluminum cans.  The rest are recycled but not returned for money.

So with more than eighty-percent of those containers being recycled, why does the bottle bill law need changing?

John Kopetski: “You know, 80-percent, say well gee, we’re right there right now.”

John Kopetski is the chair of the state's Bottle Bill Task Force.  He’s proposing some big changes to the law -- including charging deposits on more containers.

John Kopetski: “But yeah, that’s just with the cans and bottles.  You know, water bottles will be taking effect here January of 09.  And then you know, later on as we add more beverage containers to be returned, you know, you need to get, the public need to become  aware and returns need to start coming in.”

Kopetski is proposing a 25-cent deposit on wine and liquor bottles and a nickel deposit on sports drinks, iced tea, bottled coffee drinks, and juice cans. 

The original 1972 bottle bill law worked great for years, Kopetski says, but times have changed, and there are more container beverages available than just soda and beer.

The grocery industry -- which is responsible for bottle and can returns -- says deposits on more beverage containers might be a good step eventually. But right now, they want to concentrate on improving the redemption system.

Joe Gilliam is president of  the Northwest Grocery Association.  He likes the idea of bottle and can redemption centers where people would go instead of grocery stores.

Joe Gilliam: “We think they gotta take it one step at a time.  There are a lot of things in there that the task force was asked to look at, but the first thing is really the redemption center.  And I think that’s where the focus should be.”

There are several problems with the current system of redeeming bottles and cans at grocery stores, says Gilliam.

For one thing, the stores are already at capacity  now and adding deposits on more containers will be difficult. 

The other problem, says Gilliam, is sanitation.

Joe Gilliam: “If it weren’t for the bottle bill, the department of agriculture, who inspects our food safety would not allow us to do this if we chose to do it.  Because the e coli associated with the bottles and cans that come back.  It’s hard for people to believe but we get a lot of it.  We’ve tested machines and there’s e coli in there.”

Gilliam says it’s a bad mix to accept refuse like used cans and bottles at a place where fresh food is sold.

Jerry Powell helped pass the original bottle bill and also sits on the  current bottle bill task force. He admits sanitation is a problem, but argues it's not as bad as grocers say.

That’s because most big grocery stores now have separate areas for bottle redemptions--although redemption areas have their own issues -- like broken bottle return machines.

Jerry Powell: “I’m an environmentalist and I can’t stand the way they’re operated.  The concept is right, the administration and management is not.”

Powell supports the idea of separate redemption centers, but says grocers will still need to accept some returns.

Jerry Powell: “Redemption centers are for bulk loads.  And so if you have a little six pack of soft drinks that your child had, you know, why shouldn’t you be able to take them back to a convenience store?  But if you have bags and bags of material, a convenience store is not a logical place to take it.  It should go to a redemption center.”

And of course setting up redemption centers is complicated in its own right. Where are you going to put them? How easy will it be for people to get to them?

The grocery industry is proposing 90 redemption centers statewide, but  says grocery stores in rural communities would still have to accept deposit returns.

Jerry Powell with the task force,  says the redemption centers will be run much better—and more cleanly—than the current grocery store system.

Even so, he expects the public to initially oppose separate redemption centers.

Jerry Powell: “Once they try out the new redemption centers -- and they’re seen as clean and there’s a person there-- the ones in California for instance give you handi-wipes -- somebody will hand you a handi-wipe after you’re done.  Once the change over occurs, the complaint level will be for a while, then it will disappear.”

The bottle bill task force will accept public comments on these proposed changes at the state capital Friday morning.

The task force will bring its official recommendation to the 2009 Legislature.


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