Fixing the bottle bill

At the Roseburg News-Review, they're taking note of "a small movement [that] has started to rejuvenate the state’s bottle bill.":

Ideas being floated include raising the deposits and expanding the law to include bottles and cans containing water, juices and teas. Backers suggest excluding dairy products and paper containers. ... The drinking habits of Oregonians have changed considerably since 1971, and the value of a nickel return has plummeted.

Of course, opponents argue for comprehensive recycling programs:

Some anti-bottling bill advocates say that other comprehensive recycling efforts are more effective. However, it only takes one trip to an Oregon landfill to poke holes in this argument. Since recycling is optional, many people drive right by handy recycle bins to toss all their garbage, including bottles and cans, right in with the rest of their trash.

Perhaps an updated law could cover some of the concern of retailers, covering some of their costs in recycling. That law should also require that customers have a reasonable way to return containers. Some stores appear to be making it as difficult as possible.

Read the rest. What should be done about the bottle bill? Discuss.

  • jami (unverified)

    a doubled deposit would be unfairly punishing for people who recycle everything they can (and then some), but won't have time to head to safeway for a stinky time and a handful of change, even if it's ten cents a bottle. the bottle return is no one's idea of a good time, and i can't picture legislative changes that will make it more pleasant. if the shopping-cart people want to sort through our bins for the money, they're welcome to it, but i don't feel like i owe them a raise for doing what the guys with trucks would do a few hours later. i doubt the slobs who chuck aluminum cans in a landfill are going to suddenly grow halos and go in for their ten cents, either.

    i hope legislators look into whether there is actually a new group of people who will start to recycle before they double the deposit on those of us who already do.

    that said, adding five-cent deposits to plastic water bottles would be great. those shopping-cart folks do a super-efficient job, and the more areas they expand to, the better. given the petroleum shortage, plastic recycling should be downright patriotic.

  • Becky (unverified)

    Where it all went wrong was when inflation undermined the value of the deposit to the point that the stores decided to automate bottle returns. Half of what you put in there gets spat back out. If you try to save money buying a store brand at one place then you have to separate your cans according to the store where you bought them. If we had a deposit linked to inflation (maybe going up 5 cents every ten years or something) and required stores to accept all cans and bottles, whether from another store or not, then maybe we'd have something workable again.

  • Aaron B. Hockley (unverified)

    How many people honestly return their cans/bottles for deposit? I bet you'd find that a much higher percentage would recycle with a good curbside program.

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    Personally, I've thought for years that we should immediately start jacking up the deposit by a penny per year, until we hit the point where it matches the inflation-adjusted 1971 nickel. Then, inflation-adjust from that point forward - always tied to the price of the 1971 nickel.

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    Aaron - the folks who argue that a "good curbside program" will solve all the problems of recyclables in landfills (or strewn across the landscape) can't seem to point to any successes, even where there ARE good curbside programs (like, say, Portland.)

  • djk (unverified)

    If we had indexed the deposit to rise with inflation back in 1971, say in nickel increments, it would be something like a quarter now. I expect that a lot of people would recycle their containers if the deposit was a quarter.

    The last time this idea went on the ballot (raise the deposit to a dime and expand the containers covered, IIRC) it started with something like 70% or 80% approval. The proponents (OSPIRG, I think) only raised a couple of hundred thousand, and were outspent 20 to 1 by the grocery lobby. Their campaign was that "this measure replaces the bottle bill with an incredibly confusing and unworkable system" and featured a campaign ad in which The Stupidest Man Alive was trying to figure out which of his containers could be returned and which could be recycled. Because he was too stupid to look at the container to see the ten cent deposit label. Or something. Anyway, industry spent something like $4 million to bamboozle the voters with an "it's confusing" message.

    Moral of the story: improving the bottle bill has broad popular support, and therefore is a winning issue at the ballot box, but only if supporters can raise at least two or three million dollars to counter the lies and obfuscations of the well-funded opposition. If they try to pull the "its confusing" message again, it should be met with a combination of accurate information and scathing, well-deserved mockery.

    Fortunately, the internet has completely changed the landscape when it comes to fundraising for grass-roots issues. Today, raising $2 million to support an improved bottle bill is a realistic possibility.

  • (Show?)

    Fortunately, the internet has completely changed the landscape when it comes to fundraising for grass-roots issues. Today, raising $2 million to support an improved bottle bill is a realistic possibility.

    This is a bit off-topic here, but you're not going to raise $2 million on the internet from the grassroots for a state-level bottle bill initiative.

    So far, even the most exciting races in the nation have struggled to pull more than $100,000 from the blogosphere. Only presidential campaigns have done better.

    Sure, the blogosphere is only one part of online fundraising - and it's possible to do quite well, but I don't want anyone getting unrealistic expectations at this point in the game.

  • Ross Williams (unverified)

    Go to any other state in the country and you will find a bottles and beer cans lying in the ditches, in the woods, at campsites etc. In Oregon and other states with bottle bills, someone usually picks that stuff up and gets the refund.

    When the bottle bill was implemented a good number of the containers were refillable. Those days are gone forever.

    That 5 cent deposit meant a lot more when you only paid 10 or 20 cents for the beer. But I am not sure there would be popular support if you tried to raise the deposit to 25 cents.

    There is already money made on the deposit - do you really think every bottle gets returned? The problem, I think, is that the money from un-returned bottles goes to the distributors instead of to the store.

    And its obvious that some uncarbonated beverages need to be covered, the question is which ones.

    Its all so confusing ...

  • (Show?)

    Whoa--Kari Chisholm going off topic! The apocalypse is nigh ;-)

    Let me ask a slightly radical question. Do we even still need the bottle bill? In 1971, we were in a proto-environmental moment, and the bottle bill addressed a problem that was partly eco and partly civic--littering. But things have changed in 35 years.

    If the bottle bill is designed to encourage recycling, why does it get special status in the state over other recyclables? I think there's a good reason to pause before we make aluminum-can bills and milk carton bills and office waste bills to catch up with the bottle bill. Incentivizing behavior is what we're talking about, right? What do the data tell us about bottle bills?

    I'm asking the question, not hiding an agenda--I honestly don't know. But Portland now recycles 59% of its waste, and most of that isn't linked to a financial incentive. So I'm just asking the question.

  • Don Smith (unverified)


    Well said. I'm probably a typical guy on recyclables, at least in Oregon. Back in South Carolina, where I'm from, when you ask where the bottles go, you get a weird look and a nod towards the trash can. :)

    We recycle everything our provider takes. Oddly, our old garbage company took all our plastics, including clamshell packaging and whatnot, but our new company doesn't take that stuff, our even yogurt containers and the plastic "box" tofu comes in, and the like. But whatever they take, we put out. The trollers come by and get the bottles and cans. What's left gets to the recycling center via our carrier.

    We quit taking the bottles and cans back because it's disgusting, smelly, and time consuming, not to mention frustrating when you come back with 5-10% of what you brought in unrecognized or unaccepted stuff. And a voucher for $2.85.

    I'd hazard that we would not change our ways for even a $0.25 deposit because it's still smelly and I'm still too busy with two kids and our jobs and all that. I would just wind up paying $1.20 more per six pack (even soda, which costs about that much), buying less, or both.

    What about education and shame? That's pretty much what motivated me to do it in the first place. "What do you mean, you throw the bottles out? DO you hate the Earth?" Or my wife, "You're breaking my heart." No lie. That's her line. Or was, anyway.

    Portland is sufficiently Aquamarine (blue and green) to support recycling without punitive addenda to our bottle bill, don't you think?

    Full disclosure, I am a Halliburton consultant for Big Oil and the Grocery industry with Skull and Bones ties and my mother's in the Portland FBI office. ;)

  • Bert (unverified)

    Jeff Alworth said :

    "I'm asking the question, not hiding an agenda--I honestly don't know. But Portland now recycles 59% of its waste, and most of that isn't linked to a financial incentive. So I'm just asking the question."

    Well it is kind of. You'd have to pay for an additional can of waste per month, at least. In my household we get by with monthly trash pick up and hence save 7 dollars per month (Yippee!). But we usually manage to fill our two recycling bins at least twice per month. I have to admit that we often put deposit bottles in the recycling bin. It's not a loss for the scavengers (not a pejorative for me) who regularly get them.

    I support the bottle bill wholeheartedly and would vote for exapansion. Still, another alternative is to make waste generally more expensive by upping tipping fees for waste. This would incent recycling indirectly.

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    I vaguely remember that our bottle recycling rate shot up to 90%+ when the bottle bill passed, and has slipped to the high-70% since. And we're above states that don't have one, even if they have good curbside. So, yes, there's still a reason to have a stronger bottle bill.

    As a cyclist, I'm tired of all the broken glass and would love to see an incentive for people not to throw their glass in the road. Whether 25 cents on the bottle would do that, I don't know. But if you earmarked a portion of bottle bill proceeds to street maintenance, I'd be thrilled.

    As an environmentalist, I'm generally in favor of reducing and reusing, instead of lots of effort and legislation on the recycling side. Using % of waste recycled isn't the right metric; absolute tons of waste not recovered, and overall resources used, are better metrics. If we consumed a lot more, but recycled most of it, our ecological footprint would still be getting larger.

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    But if you earmarked a portion of bottle bill proceeds to street maintenance, I'd be thrilled.

    What bottle bill proceeds? It's a refundable deposit.

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    Kari, as noted not everybody turns them back in. What happens to the money not redeemed?

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    I guess I'm a weirdo. Every week the cans and bottles go in bags inside the carboard box our TV came in. Every couple of months they get transferred to a couple plastic trash bags and we head to Safeway. Saturday was a turn-in day--$18.75! Get the kids to help, and they earn easy money.

    Yeah, it's sticky work, and I make a beeline for the sink the minute I'm finished...but you guys must be much better off than I, to sneer at $75 or so a year in lost deposits.

  • Don Smith (unverified)

    As a Halliburton consultant, we're required to sneer constantly. :)

  • (Show?)

    What happens to the money not redeemed?

    It pays for the processing.

  • Gordie (unverified)

    There are 11 deposit states: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, and Vermont. All are a nickel except for Michigan's dime. When it comes to aluminum, all have a recycling rate over 70 percent, with Michigan's being over 95 percent...though no one has any precision measurements of what's brought in from out of state. Aluminum recycling has been trending downward nationally for several years, being just over 50 percent now...which shows how deposits help that rate. States with bottle bills have definitely seen a reduction in litter. Note that in '72, there were 21.75 cans per there are almost 34 cans per pound.

    Rep. Vicki Berger (R-Salem) is pushing an expansion of Oregon's bottle bill. Adding things like plastic water bottles is a great idea.

  • Ross Williams (unverified)

    It pays for the processing.

    Just to be clear. It is kept by the bottler. It may offset some of their processing costs, but I think most of the studies have showed there is a net income for the bottlers. I believe the last initiative would have had some of that money shared with the stores who do the collection to help offset their processing costs.

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    Gordie, I don't know if you're responding to the question I posed upthread, but I'm glad you responded, anyway. I suspected, even as I was writing about the effective incentive a bottle deposit offers, that the states with deposits would look far better than those without. But here's the rub: do those states have better rates because of their bottle bills, or do they have bottle bills because their citizens have a commitment to recycling? Correlations don't show causality, so I still wonder about the actual incentive these provide.

    Outside the Torrid Joe household, that is.

  • Eric (unverified)

    The only way I would support fixing the Bottle Bill is to force the merchants who take them back not to restrict the amount per day of cans/bottles taken back and to requeire the merchants (Fred Meyer, safeway, et al) to actually have covered and /or inside bottle recycling areas. It annoys me that these merchants acually discourage recyling in the winter months because their areas of recyling are open to the elements. I personally do not recycle bottles any longer because of weather concerns from the outdoor areas that these merchants have. Plus, a nickle a can/bottle isn't worth the effort to recylce anyway considering the fact that the recylce areas are all outdoors now and that attracts a lot of parasitic bums.

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    To help answer a question Jeff posed upthread about whether you still need a bottle bill:

    Here in Florida, I wish we were smart enough to pass a bottle bill, let alone beef one up to cover juice, energy drinks, etc. It gets freaking hot out here. We drink a lot of fluids: water, soda, and the like. None of it (obviously) is refundable. So what doesn't get put in a recycling bin (for those who have one) gets strewn about the landscape or thrown out with the rest of the trash. As a result, we pay a little more than you do for fluids that come in bottles and cans, and it just about comes out to the same price you pay if deposit is added.

    But we also don't have the grimy machines in grocery stores, nor do we have the people that seem to spend their entire day there.

    Good luck. I would think tackling homelessness apart from the bottle bill would make for better results on both issues.

  • RoguePundit (unverified)

    Jeff, great question. From all the studies I've read, I think it's a messy combination of both. Nearly all of the states with deposit laws are generally "greener" in the first place. Our neighbors to the north are an example of a greener state with a pretty good recycling rate but no deposit. But if one wants to look towards examples of money helping to motivate recycling:

    • There are multiple cases of groups making millions (illegally) bringing cans from several states into California for the deposit. That example also brings up additional administrative burdens of recycling (at least in CA)...investigating and prosecuting such folks.

    • Maine did some studying regarding markets near its borders and found that some were paying more in deposits than they received via sales. That's why Maine no longer collects a percentage of the deposits to fund other programs.

    • And at least around here, the homeless help keep our roadways cleaner by recycling for the $$.

    One thing recycling has clearly taught us is that the easier it is, the more people will recycle. Thus, the debate about going to curbside service versus having to take bottles, cans, etc. to a recycling location is certainly valid.

  • jj (unverified)

    What if you could redeem your deposit at curbside?

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    We turn in our cans and bottles. We typically save them up until we have a time when we need gas, groceries, etc. and are a little ways from a payday. My hubby takes the cans back and we're able to pay for what we need.

    Now, we don't have a few bottles-- my hubby is a soda addict. So we can collect a large number of cans in a short period of time.

    I do hate that you can only take back so many cans. Usually what we do is my hubby recycles them, gets as much money as he can, brings home the res of the receipts to me, and then I run back up there and get the rest. Or, if I'm already there, we just go through two different lines.

    Even if they'd change the rule so that you could turn in more cans, but would need to use so much of the money in the store, that would be better than the current rule.

    I also hate how difficult it is to return cans. Many places have machines that are always out of order. Getting an employee to empty the full machines is almost impossible. And the area often closes before the store does. They don't seem to care that some people are on different schedules and may need to return their cans later in the evening.

    If there wasn't a financial incentive, I don't know that we'd recycle our cans and bottles. Where we live (apt complex) there is one bin for glass, one for plastic, and one for boxes. And that's for something like 150 units. Needless to say, they're filled by the end of the day it's emptied. And it's only emptied once a week. It'd only get worse if that's where cans and bottles went as well.

    I can tell you I really enjoy Oregon-- in Texas there were cans and bottles everywhere. Recycling? Many garbage companies didn't even offer the ability to do that, or they charged considerably more to do so. Live just outside the city limits (I'm not talking about out in the boonies-- these are densely populated areas just outside the limits)? Recycling service wasn't available.

  • (Show?)

    What RoguePundit says makes a lot of sense--and jives with my intuition, too, which of course makes it correct, right? So how about this: expand the bottle bill, but look to other ways of increasing recycling participation rates, as well.

    (And deal with poverty directly, not in a one-off like this.)

  • BlueNote (unverified)

    Please no deposit refund on bottled water. Keeping bottled water as cheap as possible may act as an incentive for people to purchase and consume water (healthy) over all that other sugar loaded garbage that people drink.

  • Chuck Paugh (unverified)

    I think the state needs to address the hassle consumers face in attempting to return bottles to stores for a refund.

    It is a major chore to return bottles to stores now. Most stores place bottle returns in inconvenient locations, operating only during certain hours of the day even when stores are open 24 hours, or not accepting bottles for return at all.

    On top of this inconvenience, many of the larger stores only accept returns through automated machines that are many times broken or covered in slime from the stores not keeping bottle return machines clean.

    Until the current bottle return situation is streamlined and better managed by stores accepting bottles for return, why are we even discussing the addition of more items to the deposit list?

    Additionally, there is the aspect of fraud. Many intelligent college students around the state print off barcodes on home computer systems for accepted items, tape them to unaccepted items, and process them through the automated machines for beer money. The state needs to pass legislation making such action a crime and post a statute warning on machines citing what the punishment would be for such a crime.

  • JB (unverified)

    I hate the bottle bill. It's the most overrated public policy in Oregon. I would love to put all my recyclables, including cans and beer bottles, in the big blue bin that I faithfully take to the curb every other week. If I can't recycle plastic water bottles, I'm going to freak. Is there any evidence that doing away with the bottle bill and making everything recyclable, using curbside recycling, would not have the same outcome as the current law? I realize not every community in Oregon has curbside recycling. Why not? Maybe there ought to be a small tax on bottles to create incentives for statewide curbside recycling. I'd gladly pay a few cents a bottle for that. I just don't want to be bothered with having to get my deposit back.

  • John Mulvey (unverified)

    The proposals to increase the deposit and expand the types of containers covered are simple, common sense measures that should have been passed years ago. Evan mentioned that the return rate has slipped since the program started. Raising the deposit to make it --once again --worth people's while to return the containers would reverse this trend.

    DJK mentioned the campaign to enact exactly these changes 10 years ago. He's correct in attributing its failure to obscene spending by the supermarket chains, but there was another factor too. Governor Kitzhaber opposed the measure, saying that he would be bringing a better plan forward to the Legislature. Well, his "better plan" would have increased the deposit charge to 10-cents, with 5-cents being refunded to the consumer and the other 5 going to fund salmon recovery. In other words, it tied the bottle return program to an entirely different issue, and did nothing to get return rates back up. That bill, of course, didn't get a hearing from the lopsided R legislature, who would have sawed their own legs off rather than give Kitz a successful program to run for reelection on.

    I'm convinced that many moderates voted against the measure due to Kitz's opposition. While I respect the man, he can be infuriating sometimes, and I'll never quite forgive him for his position on this one. Solid waste is a huge issue that most people don't give the slightest thought to, and the bottle bill is one of the few things that's had a real impact on the problem.

    I think the same language could pass now, even with huge spending by Safeway, et al., if it was positioned properly. There are many rural city councilors who are well aware of the high cost of landfilling trash and might be pursuaded to support this measure. If it's just another Portland green thing, with no coordination or involvement by the rest of the state, it will be easy for the supermarkets to kill it.


  • (Show?)

    Please no deposit refund on bottled water. Keeping bottled water as cheap as possible may act as an incentive for people to purchase and consume water (healthy) over all that other sugar loaded garbage that people drink.

    Bottled water is, generally, a scam to get people to pay for things they can get for 2 cents (so is sugar water, so co-called soda). I don't think it's a huge incentive to have a bottle of water cost $1.35 instead of $1.40.

    Anyway, if you were to expand the bottle bill to 25 cents, and dedicate 5 cents to litter clean-up (street sweeping, etc.) I'd be thrilled, as a cyclist who got too many flats (and now invested in serious heavy-duty tires).

  • Ross Williams (unverified)

    I would love to put all my recyclables, including cans and beer bottles, in the big blue bin that I faithfully take to the curb every other week. If I can't recycle plastic water bottles, I'm going to freak.

    There is nothing to keep you from recycling bottles, you just give up the deposit. Mine mostly end up going to the homeless.

    I just don't want to be bothered with having to get my deposit back.

    That is the reason the deposit works. There are a lot of people that can't be bothered to pack out those beer cans they took with them fishing. The deposit needs to be enough of an incentive to get them to do it or for someone else to pack them out if they don't.

    Its quite a shock when you go to other states without a bottle bill and see aluminum cans out in the middle of nowhere that have obviously been there for a long time.

  • (Show?)

    I don't know..I perused this thread and a lot of people said some interesting stuff.

    A few years ago there was a ballot measure to expand the bottle bill and it went down in flames.

    I'm not sure there is the public support for doing such a thing.

    Some of the points I agree with:

    1) Recycling at stores is often a hassle and dirty at best.

    2) The financial incentive is small, but also depends how much you consume. (Jenni: I'm a total soda freak like your husband)

    3) The limit on the amount of cans you can take back means you either have to recycle frequently or have multiple people to do it.

    4) Cans and bottles from other stores make recycling more difficult.

    As someone who worked in a grocery store, I can see the other side of it. Oh the days when I had to count cans. ICK! The recycling also takes up a large chunk of space as well in the storeroom. Even with those (stupid) machines, recycling takes a fair amount of labor. It seems the only one making money off the deal is the distributors.

  • (Show?)

    Honest question: Why are the stores paying for the recycling machines if the distributors are the ones pocketing the unclaimed nickels?

    That is, if that claim we've seen twice now is actually true. I always thought that the retailed kept the unclaimed nickels.

  • jj (unverified)

    Again - If available, wouldn't it be better to get the deposit at the curbside? No machines,no extras trips, no limits, etc.

  • (Show?)

    Getting the deposit back at curbside would require multiple things...

    The person picking up your items would have to count and keep track of everyone's items that have a deposit.

    It is currently unavailable to a lot of people. There are many people in this state who live in areas that don't get this kind of service. Also, all those in apartment complexes and condos most often do not have individual garbage service. Where many of you may have the blue can for recyclables, many complexes have only one of those per type of recyclable for the entire complex-- often hundreds of people.

    I think that with changes and mandates made on how the stores handle the cans, people would support changes to the bill. If stores could keep the extra money, if stores were required to meet certain minimums for their returns, etc., people would likely change their minds. But I don't know they would if they still have to deal with the same hassles they do now.

  • (Show?)

    I don't know, someone else said that the distributors keep the nickle. I guess I'm guilty of repeating.

    Maybe the grocery store does get the money. It would be interesting to hear from someone who works for a beverage distributor.

  • Karl (unverified)

    I used to live in Michigan. Bringing bottles and cans to be recycled was easy. Just went to a supermarket. They had automated machines that accepted the bottles and cans, and you got a receipt that printed out what your take was. Then you either used it to get a store credit or some cash.

    At 10 cents a bottle/can, it paid for meals, laundry, and some poker games when I was a student there.

    It was a big incentive for me not to throw away the recyclables.

  • (Show?)

    I have to admit that we often put deposit bottles in the recycling bin.

    Not a good idea. We don't want to encourage people trolling our bins, do we? (And you're not doing the homeless a favor if they get busted, as they sometimes do.)

    On a long ago --and similar-- thread here on Blue Oregon, someone posted what has turned out to be our family's response...drop the cans and bottles off at New Seasons, where the deposits go to support our schools.

  • Ross Williams (unverified)

    We don't want to encourage people trolling our bins, do we?

    I don't know why not. Having people who go through garbage and pick out the recyclables is a service isn't it? Why wouldn't you want to encourage this?

  • Scott McLean (unverified)

    The deposit could be slightly more than what people get back when they return the bottles in order to finance the expanded bottle recycling program. If there was funding to create additional recycling centers and hire workers to handle the increased volume of empty cans and bottles, that would also create jobs.

  • Rebel Dog (unverified)

    Frank Dufay wrote:

    Not a good idea. We don't want to encourage people trolling our bins, do we? (And you're not doing the homeless a favor if they get busted, as they sometimes do.)

    I don't get it. What do they get busted for? Bottom line the only difference between dumpster divers recycling and the recyclers recycling is the fuel the truck uses between your house and the recycle center, no?

    Perhaps it's just the thought that street people come into too close proximity to your school children. How about turning off Channel 12, and taking your precious rug rats down to a soup kitchen and you all spending a shift getting to know the folks involved?

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