Representative Dembrow is serving his first term in the Oregon Legislature representing House District 45 (NE Portland, the City of Maywood Park, and Parkrose). He serves on four House committees: Education (Vice-Chair), Health Care, Human Services, and Workforce Development. Senator Dingfelder is serving her ninth year in the Oregon Legislature; this is her first term as Senator from Senate District 23 (NE and SE Portland). She chairs the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, and also sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee and on the Ways and Means Natural Resources Subcommittee
Thanks to Oregon’s visionary bottle bill, every time we buy a can or bottle of beer or soda or (now) a plastic bottle of water, we pay a five-cent deposit. Ideally, we return these containers for redemption. Most of us don’t realize that whenever we throw these containers away or put them in curbside recycling rather than redeeming them, the five cent deposit is retained—not by the state, but by the beverage distributors.
This deposit was originally meant to encourage Oregonians to recycle by putting a little bit of change back into our pockets. Instead, much of the deposit money is staying in the pockets of the distributors.
How much do they make? We really don’t know, and that’s one of the reasons for House Bill 3465, legislation that we introduced in the Oregon Legislature this session. Currently, there are no reporting requirements for distributors. The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality estimates that over 254 million deposit bottles or cans ended up in Oregon’s landfills in 2005 (the most recent year analyzed). Another 60 million containers were recycled in curbside recycling pickup.
According to DEQ, the resulting unclaimed deposits add up to an estimated twenty to thirty million dollars per year. Unlike residents of other states, Oregonians receive no benefit from these unredeemed deposits.
The nickels those bottles represent are a windfall for the beverage distributors. There is no requirement for them to account for the deposits they receive or how much they return to consumers. HB 3465 aims to change that practice.
First, it gives us transparency and accountability. Under HB 3465, distributors will be required to account for the funds they receive when consumers do not redeem the deposits paid at retail. Distributors will have to disclose the number of containers sold and the number of containers returned, along with the total amount of refund payments made to retailers during each quarter.
Second, the bill compels the unredeemed deposits to be used for the public good. Oregonians did not pass the bottle bill to benefit the distributors. We passed the bottle bill to help Oregon recycle. Our legislation will bring unredeemed money back to the state so we can ensure that every penny of it is used for public benefit.
HB3465 ends the unintentional give-away of tens of millions of dollars to distributors each year. With proper accounting, the distributors will still be able to retain some of the money to help pay for redemption operations. Some of the funds should be used for recycling information and outreach. The millions of dollars that remain could be used to fund schools, health care, and other essential needs.
After Oregon passed its historic bottle bill legislation in 1971, ten other states followed our lead. Five of those states (California, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, and Michigan) now have laws that direct some or all of the unredeemed deposits into vital services. Connecticut and New York have just passed laws this year to start claiming a portion of their unredeemed deposits.
Given Oregon’s present economic climate, it would be irresponsible for us not to do the same.