Putting accountability in Oregon's Bottle Bill

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.

Comments

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)
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    Or we could look at it this way -

    The landmark bill passed in 1971 has served its purpose well by focusing attention on recycling and should be retired.

    In its place we should come up with a plan that:

    1. Increases curbside recycling
    2. Increases use of community recycling centers
    3. Finds more outlets for the tons of reccyled, yet unused materials available
    4. Frees up retail outlet labor and space for more productive activities. Those margins are 1% - 3% at best.

    There is no reason in this economic climate to place an additional burden on business counting 10's of millions of dollars a nickle at a time.

    Count my bottles and cans among those 60 million in curbside recycling.

  • Sean (unverified)
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    Wow! Should have been done from day one. Think of all the lost funds and private profits over the years. That's A LOT (compound interest since '71?) of money.

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    It would be nice to hear that the distributors were paying a tax on the income from all those deposits, as well.

    There is no reason in this economic climate to place an additional burden on business counting 10's of millions of dollars a nickle at a time.

    Distributors deal in cases and pallets, not individual bottles. And they already keep track of all those cases: when they go out, how many and where they go. They apparently have some accounting of how much money they're getting back from retailers. It's not a major issue to subtract one total from the other.

  • Roy McAvoy (unverified)
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    Kinda like those ridiculous gift cards offered to consumers by private business. Can you imagine how many go unredeemed or completely unredeemed and the profits that are gained at our expense?

    Personally I find it a pain in the butt to return bottles and cans. I do it for the sake of the environment, not for the few dollars I get back. If one is not committed, the return money is little incentive in my opinion. More local community drop off centers for donation purposes would be great.

  • Robert Harris (unverified)
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    Raise the deposit to a dime per container and split the unclaimed amount between the State and distributors. The increase in deposit won't burden those that return the containers, will reduce litter because people won't be as likely to throw them out a litter, and even if they do, others will be more motivated to pick them up and return them for the cash. The State may not get as much as under the current proposal (because more people would return instead of recycle or throw away), but distributors still get to keep some unclaimed deposits to help offset the cost of providing return services. The downside I see is that people who recycle instead of return would either pay a little more per container, or have to return.

  • mp97303 (unverified)
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    How do they know that a deposit is unclaimed. My grandmother had about 2000 can in her garage when she passed. Must have been about 3 years worth. We returned them, so they weren't unclaimed.

  • (Show?)

    odd, but i find myself agreeing with Kurt on this: now that we have (near) universal curbside recycling, the bottle deposit may not be the best method. if the state's emphasis was on recycling, period -- all materials, not just beverage containers -- then the incentive to return bottles & cans for the nickel would not be needed. i'd rather leave my bottles by the curb than schlep them back to the store, but i've no intention of letting Maletis and the rest have any more of my money than they already get.

    perhaps the Leg's goal for 2011 should be to develop programs for universal recycling and to phase-out the bottle bill. we need people to recycle, not because they get some money back (and let's remember the nickel ain't what it was when the bottle bill first appeared) but because the health of their home, this planet, requires it. hence, their health & safety requires it.

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)
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    Dembrow & Dingfelder:

    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.

    Bob T:

    Because that's the point of the transaction, and no one can predict which exact location the cans and bottles will be redeemed. The ideal situation would be an exact match of nickels paid in, and of nickels paid out at each place, but it's not necessary. And don't forget that anyone who chucks a can or bottle out the window, or leaves it in a park, is letting it be available for someone else to come along and collect it so he can get the nickel.

    Dembrow & Dingfelder:

    This deposit was originally meant to encourage Oregonians to recycle by putting a little bit of change back into our pockets.

    Bob T:

    Well, the incentive is in getting back the nickel, but don't for a second try to make anyone believe that they are a nickel ahead when the can is redeemed. The patron has the same amount in his pocket as he did before the deposit was required.

    He paid a buck for a pop, drank it, and threw away the bottle. AFter the law passed, he paid $1.05, drank the pop, and then redeemed the bottle for a nickel. He's still out a buck. Where did he come out ahead?

    Dembrow & Dingfelder:

    Instead, much of the deposit money is staying in the pockets of the distributors.

    Bob T:

    Okay, so they're being demonized again. But this only half the problem. What about the consumer who's tossing these containers in his garbage bag or the first dumpster he sees? The law may have been "historic", but apparently the message hasn't gotten through to hundreds of thousands of people here since 1971. So it took 38 years to figure this out.

    Dembrow & Dingfelder:

    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.

    Bob T:

    Okay, fine. But in the end the same percentage of containers winds up unredeemed. One would think the idea would be to increase that percentage rather than just "get the money" so a big, bad business doesn't get a windfall.

    Dembrow & Dingfelder:

    Second, the bill compels the unredeemed deposits to be used for the public good.

    Bob T:

    Uh-oh, sounds like street car money, or a block grant to Mayor Adams so he can give it to yet another millionaire sports team owner.

    Dembrow & Dingfelder:

    Oregonians did not pass the bottle bill to benefit the distributors.

    Bob T:

    Yes, I thought it was to encourage recycling. So now the state lawmakers figure that since a certain hefty percentage of containers never get redeemed, that they might as well grab the unclaimed money so no one else gets it. If the idea is to encourage recycling, then maybe the deposit should be 50 cents, or a dollar. But no, it looks as though the state would prefer to get the money and let the same percentage of containers go un-recycled. Can't you do better than that?

    Bob Tiernan Portland

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    We absolutely do not have nearly universal curbside recycling. Maybe if you live in a house you do, but not if you are a renter. And in many of our larger cities, nearly half our residences are rentals (most of which are in multi-unit complexes).

    Those of us who live in complexes typically have a few recycling containers that are enough for a few of the units in the complex. Here at our complex, for example, there are more than 200 units. However, last time I looked we had 3 of the blue recycling containers that are maybe 50% larger than the ones a household gets and then 2 more of the ones a household gets. That is supposed to cover this entire complex (and is in the very back of the complex). At the same time, there is a set of dumpsters for every 2 buildings located near the buildings.

    That's more than other complexes I've lived in - others only have the minimum which would be one for glass and one for everything else.

    We have no place to store recycling - we're not allowed to have it on our patios, even if it is neat and clean. Keeping it inside your unit is problematic since you don't exactly have a lot of room and it isn't easy to take it to the bins every day. Plus the bins are often full when you get back there, which means you either leave it on the ground around the bins (and then it gets put in the trash compactor) or you take it back home. So recycling is difficult.

    If you remove the deposit, there will be no more reason for renters to go through the hassle of keeping the cans in their units and returning them as they can. It's already obvious that by the small amount that is recycled each week by our complex's residents that most everything else already goes into the dumpsters - and without the deposit, the cans and bottles will too.

  • rw (unverified)
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    Holy Shit: I actually nodded in some agreements here, BoB T.

    Bec W

  • Roy McAvoy (unverified)
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    The last time I tried to return cans to the store I used the outside auto-machines in late August. Two of three machines did not work. As I started to drop the cans in one at a time (I had about 200) I was suddenly and furiously attacked by yellow-jackets. These little buggers are apparently regular tenants near these machines during that time of the year. I tried to run but the sticky concrete kept my shoes in place, and I was stung mercilessly. Eventually I collected my $8.45, but not without much pain and suffering. Kurt, I will admit curbside is much more appealing and your ideas have merit.

  • Douglas K (unverified)
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    The bottle bill wasn't about recycling. It was about litter. The Bottle Bill was originally passed to deal with bottles and beer cans tossed by the side of the road. By giving people an economic incentive to return them instead of throwing them away AND by giving people an economic inventive to pick them up, the state significantly cut back on littering.

    The problem with the "curbside recycling" argument is that it addresses the behavior of people who dispose of their garbage properly and ignores litterbugs. Get rid of the deposit and we clutter our roadsides with throw-away plastic bottles and aluminum cans again.

  • Joba (unverified)
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    t.a. once again proves his uselessness. Near universial curbside recycling? Rolling back the bottle bill? Please remove your head from your rectum.

  • LT (unverified)
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    "perhaps the Leg's goal for 2011 should be to develop programs for universal recycling and to phase-out the bottle bill."

    TA, do you really believe that if people go to a park for a picnic or vacation they will put all the empties in their car to take home to recycle?

    Almost the only truly citizen witness in 2007 at the first hearing for what ended up as water eventually added to the bottle bill was a gentleman from a rural town (Mill City?) whose civic group collects empties from a local park and thus raises money.

    If you truly believe that dropping the bottle bill and having curbside recycling would mean no empties littering a rural public park, by all means push your idea.

    Just remember that empties littering coastal areas were the inspiration for the original Bottle Bill, with a future state rep's Dad being the main citizen activist, and the bill being sponsored by a coastal legislator.

  • LT (unverified)
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    Bob T., please read a history of the Bottle Bill, such as Brent Walth's FIRE AT EDEN'S GATE.

  • Alijane (unverified)
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    Why not allow non profit groups to set up collections dumptsters like they did for newspapers, milk jugs and cardboard did before recycling?

    I would feel much better about giving to a charity than I do about a government money grab.

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)
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    LT:

    Bob T., please read a history of the Bottle Bill, such as Brent Walth's FIRE AT EDEN'S GATE.

    Bob T:

    My reading list (for books) is quite long at present. Perhaps you can tell me what that writer said about accepting a certain level of recycling of bottles and cans and giving up on improving on that number. Or why the bill dealt only with pop and beer containers.

    I'm interested in this, even if I don't buy or drink pop or beer, and drink my water out of the same bottle I keep refilling.

    Bob Tiernan Portland

  • LT (unverified)
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    http://www.recyclingadvocates.org/bottle_bill_history.htm

    is a good short history, but you really should read the Bottle Bill section of Walth's book if only to learn about the behind the scenes industry efforts to kill it. As I recall, it involved what amounted to attempted blackmail which backfired when a target (a legislator?) of that attempt went public and said "here is what these lobbyists tried to do".

    Anyone old enough to remember pull-tabs might remember the crusade to get rid of them(before cans were made to have the tab go down in the can, they were pulled off and some young people amused themselves making chains of them, but too many were dropped in parks and on beaches and trails, and they could cut a bare foot stepping on them on a beach).

    McCall was the Gov. who helped the process along, but a citizen activist who enjoyed hiking (and picked up litter as he hiked, getting angry whenever he saw litter) and a coastal state rep (one news photo showed St. Rep. Paul Hanneman with someone else and a collection of the pull tabs). Original bill was about both deposit to fight litter and anti-pull tab efforts.

    Hard to think of any stories in recent years which involve the lobbying efforts (for and against) of both lobbyists and citizens like the original bottle bill.

  • stan (unverified)
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    I think Douglas K. and LT are exactly right about the original goal of the bottle bill as a litter control measure. Containers with deposit on them are recycled/returned at an 80% rate, but water bottles pre deposit were returned at a 30% rate, along with other non returnables (like tea/fruit juices/sport drinks). It creates an incentive for individuals to keep empties when they're done with them or to pick them up when they see them.

    I live in Sabin (NE PDX) and every now and then, when I'm walking my dog I'll pick up litter around the neighborhood and aside from the fast food containers and Starbucks cups, the biggest source of trash I've seen is non returnable bottles. It used to be pre deposit water bottles were the largest % of the empties I picked up. Since the deposit got added Jan. 1, the amount of water bottles I've seen littered has gone down dramatically.

    I'm not claiming this as a definitive survey, just one man's experience in one neighborhood in one beautiful city.

  • (Show?)

    i love being criticized with hostile crudity by people who don't even bother to read what i wrote. it's always a special moment to realize i gave someone an opportunity to demonstrate the itti-bittiness of their intellectual powers.

    Jenni, otoh, makes rational points, and shows part of the direction we need to be going. i still think Kurt is on the right track, which is why i said we should head in that direction, make elimination of the bottle bill a goal - not whack it tomorrow. it seems like the goal for so long is to expand the bottle bill, but, really, it's never been anything but a means to an end. we need to get to that damn end someday, not find ways to make the means permanent.

    if curbside recycling is not universal (as it supposed to be), we need to fix that. ultimately, that's a far better solution than having people schlep bottles back to the store, stand in line with them dripping and stinking, and run them thru machines that are broken half the time. for 60 cents worth of returns, this is worth it? no for many people, recycling the damn things is worth the nickel they lose. boosting the deposit might fix that, but it's still bandaid land. we need a permanent fix, and deposits ain't it.

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)
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    LT:

    http://www.recyclingadvocates.org/bottle_bill_history.htm

    is a good short history, but you really should read the Bottle Bill section of Walth's book if only to learn about the behind the scenes industry efforts to kill it.

    Bob T:

    Again, that has nothing to do with the point I'm making now about accepting a certain level of recycling and steering the unredeemed nickels into the state treasury as a solution. My point still stands whether the initial goal was litter control and not recycling. That was obvious since recycling followed litter control.

    Keep in mind that when it comes to bringing the containers back to the store, the same incentive exists for the litterbug as it does for those who dispose of the containers in trash cans. Addressing the problem of unrecycled containers by steering the money to the Oregon treasury instead of creating a stronger incentive to increase the recycling (and anti-litter) rate sounds like the politicians are more interested in getting their hands on the money than in actually dealing with the fact of un-recycled containers. And using some of the new funds to print up fliers and produce commercials about recycling probably won't cut it.

    That's all I'm saying, LT. No one's trying to start an argument with you.

    Bob Tiernan Portland

  • Grant Schott (unverified)
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    I like this bill.

    The nickel deposit form '71 would be a quarter today indexed for inflation. Oregon's return rate of a little over 80% is good, but Michigan, the only state with a 10 cent deposit for all returnables, boasts a return rate of over 95% (according to www.bottlebill.org).

    Unfortunately the original 10 cent language of this year's big bottle bill, HB 2184, was mandated so that the increase can't take place until 2016, and only if the return rate drops below 80%.

    I've heard that a justification for the uncollected deposits going to distributors has always been that they might fund redemption centers. Finally, it looks like they will, but, in another 2184 compromise, stores within so many miles of those centers will no longer have to accept bottle/cans.

    I still think 2184 is a good bill and has many strengths, but it's too bad that with a Democratic supermajority it has been watered down so much. Even so, looking at last week's yes vote on 2184 it looks like at least two Ds and all Rs opposed it. Even Vicki Berger, whose father, the late Richard Chambers, is considered the father of OR's bottle bill, voted no.

  • Grant Schott (unverified)
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    I meant to say:

    this year's big bottle bill, HB 2184, was AMENDED so that the increase can't take place until 2016.

  • LT (unverified)
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    Grant, apparently Vicki Berger opposes it because this is too soon after the "just add water" revision and possibly also because they don't seem to have the details worked out.

    Here's one of those details yet to be explained publicly, "Finally, it looks like they will, but, in another 2184 compromise, stores within so many miles of those centers will no longer have to accept bottle/cans."

    Don't we deserve to know how far we would have to go to a redemption center? If someone drives by 5 grocery stores on the way to a redemption center that is 10 or more miles away, what does that do to the environment as far as fuel consumed, pollution, etc. ? Not many legislative offices want to give a straight answer about that. Are we just supposed to have faith that it will all be worked out satisfactorily as long as no one asks pesky questions?

    And if someone finds an empty while walking in their neighborhood, are they likely to pick it up and take it to a redemption center, or throw it in the trash? What if they find one on the ground outside a grocery store in the parking lot?

    And about the unclaimed deposits, is it true that right now no one keeps records of where that money goes?

    " 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. "

    In a time when many things in this state may end up being looked at/changed as a result of our budget problems, why shouldn't we know where that unclaimed deposit money goes? Because distributors are "stakeholders" who have a right to affect legislation in private in ways the public may never know about? Or because no one wants to deal with that issue?

    This should not be a partisan issue except in this sense---if majority Democrats don't pay close attention to the logistics involved in reform bills, they may not have as large a majority next time.

    People may decide partisan caucuses have outlived their usefulness if they can't deal with this stuff openly under strong Democratic control. The sizeable fraction of the voting public who are not strong partisans still have concerns about everyday issues like this.

  • LT (unverified)
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    TA, "this is worth it? no for many people, recycling the damn things is worth the nickel they lose. boosting the deposit might fix that, "

    It may not be "worth it" for people who live in urban areas where there is always a line for the machines to return bottles, and who have enough income that nickels are no big deal.

    But for folks who seldom see a line at those bottle deposit machines, who take empties which have been rinsed out before being put in the bag to take back, and who can use that change if only to put in a piggy bank or a container for parking meter money etc., it does make a difference.

    "What we should do" is a fine philosophy statement, but actually doing such things takes a lot of work. Rhetoric doesn't make those changes. Perhaps you should start a movement for universal recycling--as I recall there was a woman from Jefferson Oregon who wrote a guest opinion in the Oregonian complaining about that, and it turned out that her experience in a small Marion County town was different than the experience of people living in Salem.

    Collecting information on the true state of things like recycling in all areas is the first step to changing what one wants to change.

  • Eric Parker (unverified)
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    "It may not be "worth it" for people who live in urban areas where there is always a line for the machines to return bottles"

    ...not only is there a line, but they, the grocers, have put the machines outside, in the elements, and in the middle of parking lots where the grocery people purposely put them to actively discourage us turning in the cans and bottles becuase it is just too much work for the lazy grocers to count them. I quit turning the returnables in long ago because it isn't worth turning in your bottles and such during bad weather and grumpy gorcery help. That's why I just dump them where the homelesss can get the returnables and they get the money.

  • LT (unverified)
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    "not only is there a line, but they, the grocers, have put the machines outside, in the elements, and in the middle of parking lots where the grocery people purposely put them to actively discourage us turning in the cans and bottles becuase it is just too much work for the lazy grocers to count them."

    Eric, Winco has always had their bottle machines indoors here in Salem, and Safeway has theirs attached to the outside of the building (in a covered area along the front side) or in a room accessible from the outside.

    Roths, the local grocery store chain, used to have employees count bottles. When they changed, there was a sign in one of their stores saying they hand't wanted to do it but the distributors wanted it done that way (or words to that effect).

    Which is why I am skeptical of "the grocers want" or similar statements in this debate. Did they really poll every grocery store or corporate office?

    This is why I return empties at Roths or Winco or Safeway--and then buy groceries there.

  • mp97303 (unverified)
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    can anyone tell me how they plan to determine what an "unclaimed" deposit is?

  • LT (unverified)
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    If you paid deposits on 6 bottles of pop and only 4 of them got returned to the store, that 10 cents (deposit on 2 bottles) is unclaimed deposit.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)
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    Eric, please tell us why the grocery store should take up retail space to house these machines? I have yet to see an establishment that does not have these machines under cover. Isn't it enough that they have to pay someone to clean and maintain them? This is but one of the unfunded mandates imposed by the bottle bill.

    Again, the original bill was about LITTER. Now we should allow the bill to sunset as it admireably served a great purpose. Replace this archaic monstrosity with an effectivel curbside and redemption center program statewide.

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