Bottle Bill: Symptom or Cure

Lenny Dee

Irrespective of how the legislature resolves modernizing a clearly dated Bottle Bill many fundamental questions will be left for us to grapple with. Can we mediate specific short-term economic interests with long-term common good?

Clearly the NW Grocers Association and behind them the manufacturers don’t see the common good benefit of an expanded bottle bill. A large part of the sustainability movement is based on providing economic incentives to encourage the greening of industry. At some point we’re going to have to figure out a way that the factors included in number crunching get expanded to reflect the public interest.

At Onward Oregon we urge you to support the bottle bill and would love to hear how you think we can resolve this fundamental conflict

It’s hard to imagine the originators of the 1971 Bottle Bill conceiving of water being bottled. Capitalism has an amazing facility for creating products and markets. It’s the only way we know to run an economy. I have friends who argue that bottled water is symbolic of an economic system run amok. Yet few of us have answers as to what we’d offer as an alternative. Is it local self-reliance as a kingpin of a sustainability movement?

Your thoughts and ideas would be most welcome.

  • Becky (unverified)

    At the risk of sounding like a horrible person, I haven't taken my cans and bottles back to the store for a couple of years now. It's just not worth 5 cents each to do it. You have to have them sitting around your house, you have to deal with whatever inconvenient machinery has been set up to process them, and you can't return them to a store that doesn't sell that particular brand. I just throw them all in with my curbside recycling.

    The system was great when you could work with a real person at the store and they would take anything. And when 5 cents meant something.

    Personally, I would expand the bill to require deposits for all recyclable beverage cans and bottles, but use the money to pay for curbside recycling in every community and forget about imposing the can and bottle return mess on grocers. The money isn't enough to be worth the hassle, but it might be enough to actually get those items recycled if you do it right. If it means increasing the deposit, then so be it.

  • Thomas Ware (unverified)

    I'd like to see a deposit on every plastic container.

    Unreasonable. Perhaps. As unreasonable as paying the oil companies to pump the toxic waste generated by the incredibly luctrative production of petrocarbon products from cosmetics to shampoo, fertilizers to pharmaceuticals, into our Suburban Assualt Vehicles (ictp) and destroy the atmosphere? hmmph...

    That includes milk jugs.

  • Eric J. (unverified)

    As long as you want the retailers and the grocers involved you will never get a good solution. Grocers would rather have their minions stock shelves than count cans and bottles. Why do you think they put their recycling machines in the parking lot? When the weather is bad, no one recycles becuase it is not worth getting soaked for a measly few cents per container.

  • Dave Lister (unverified)

    I agree with Becky. I used to take my cans and bottles into the store where they were counted by a young person, probably a high schooler, working on the weekends.

    Then they put in the machines. They were awful. You could only do one bottle at a time (I prefer beer in bottles rather than cans), they were broke down most of the time and the smell and the mess was horrible. I started simply leaving my bottles outside of the store in a shopping cart. Someone who needed the refund worse than I would take them.

    Finally, like Becky, I just started putting them out on the curb. Over in Hollywood we have a lot of people working the streets in the early morning on recycle day to claim those cans and bottles.

    I agree with Becky that expansion of curbside recycling is the answer.

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    With the deposit on the cans, they're more likely to get taken back. Either the consumer who bought them takes them back, or they're picked up by someone out of the recycling and that person returns them.

    If you don't give the consumer back the funds for the cans, you'll see a lot more cans just dumped into the trash. Without the incentive of getting the 5 cents per can, you aren't going to see people dig through the trash for the cans -- especially when many of them are buried in bags of household trash that includes spoiled food.

  • Lee Barrett (unverified)

    To clarify a few points about the current bottle bill situation. It's the distributors than own the reverse vending machines. They are the ones that start the 5-cent deposit. The more disgusted you get with the process of returning the cans and bottles the more nickels they get to keep. They're not happy until you're not happy. The reason the bottle bill works at all is because all of the work is being done by the grocers and they get nothing out of it (other than having you in or near their store when you return cans for the deposit). That's why they oppose any expansion, it's only going to be more work for them. A system that takes redemption out of the stores and puts them in a facility that gets a handling fee for each container they collect would be an entirely different experience for the consumer. Imagine a situation where they make money when you redeem containers instead of the current one where they make money when you don't! Finally as good as curbside recycling is (at least in the populated parts of the state) bottle bills always, always result in a far greater percentage of recovery. It's about time we had the producers (Coke, Budweiser, etc. etc.)of these products take some responsibility for getting them back and recycled.

  • ellie (unverified)

    I would support a $0.10 deposit on most items.

    The problem is not only the basic hassle of returning the items (not to mention storage until you're able to return them) but where stores would store them and where they'd put all the additional machines needed.

    I said it before, I'll say it again: RecycleBank. I really think this is a good idea and I wish that we could see more ideas like this.

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    Ellie, I'd love a guest column about RecycleBank - explaining how it works and how it improves recycling.

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    Lots of good ideas here. The deposit needs to go up to a dime. Immediately. And the amount ought to have an automatic inflation index -- an easily implemented idea that's more than 20 years old.

    The practice of the distributors keeping the unclaimed deposits has to be done away with. As Lee put it, the incentive should be to have the return processors make money, not lose money, with each returned container.

    And the types of containers subject to the bill need to be expanded. Water, juice, Gatorade-type drinks immediately -- wine with maybe a three-year advance warning period?

  • PeteJacobsen (unverified)

    I put out my recycling, nicely separated. Besides the glass bin and the paper/cans bin, I have a third bin in which I put everything with a deposit. That bin is guaranteed to be empty before the truck pulls up in the morning. There are folks making what money they can by picking them up. I am more than happy for them to get the nickels (or dimes!) to save me from the hassle.

    I hope these "jobs" won't be lost by whatever changes are made. I hope their jobs could be made easier by a better return system. Unfortunately, RecycleBank seems to be a "high-tech" solution that would put these guys (and gals) out of business. Now, most folks don't care whether their containers are recycled by the folks with bike trailers or the big, noisy truck in the morning. With RecycleBank, they would be "losing money" if these people took the containers they put out at night! I can picture some unpleasant interactions.

  • Peter Bray (unverified)

    It would be great if, on a county level, we could initiate variable charges for trash.

  • Madam Hatter (unverified)

    When I was a bartender, (this was several years ago) we had to separate all cans by distributor and put them in these giant bags that they would come collect. (Bottles went back in their cases and were picked up that way.) Why?

    Could it be that the owner (maybe?) got out of paying the nickel deposit by returning the can to the distributor? Else, why would they donate them back to the distributors?

    In any case, the distributors DID take care of the cans (and bottles)... I just don't know what they did with 'em.

  • Faolan (unverified)

    The Ciy or County or State or a combination should subsidize the recycling centers at major grocers such as Safeway and Fred Meyer. Those major grocers should be required to provide those recycling centers.

    It is reasonable for those stores to limit recycling center hours to some sort of clearly posted, regular hours limited to 20-30 hours per week. I would be okay if those hours were determined by the store but I would also be happy if those hours were legislated.

    In addition I think that ALL plastic, metal, and glass bottles should have a deposit. period. Every single item of an easily recyclable material should be strenuously encouraged to BE recycled.

    I would even go so far as to say that this needs to be a national movement not a State level one.

  • Lee Barrett (unverified)

    RecycleBank is a method for giving residents an incentive to participate in their curbside program. It's also a marketing tool for the companies that participate by giving out coupons for the "points" earned from recycling.
    RecycleBank weighs your recyclables and credits your account with points based on that weight. I think there is a limit of something like 35 pounds a month. You use your points like airline miles and redeem them for coupons from various national and local companies. 10% off on this item, $5 off on something else, things like that. A few things you should know before you get too excited about this concept. First it costs $2 a month per household to participate, so your garbage bill would go up $2 a month. Second the technology at this point only allows the recyclables to be collected with a rear loading truck. No recycler here uses a rear loader to collect residential recycling, so they would all have to get rid of their current trucks and go back to the old style for the program to work. RecycleBank also requires single stream recycling where everything (including glass) goes into one container. That would do severe damage to our paper recyclling, contaminating it with shardes of glass. Paper comprises, by weight, about 85% of what we put out for recycling at the curb. Single stream is simply something that won't fly in this area. Back east, where cities have very poor recycling participation, and most of them perform the collection with government employees, this concept can work. That is because the city collects the garbage and recycling and thus they save money when they send less material to the landfill. Here in Oregon all collection is done by private companies that bill the individual households for the service. So there is no savings to the cities for less going to landfills and thus you will be paying the extra $2 a month.
    So what would the residents in Portland, who collectively are currently recycling over 50% of their material, get for the extra $250,000+ a month they would be paying RecycleBank? Coupons where you have to spend money to save money. Not a good deal in my book. RecycleBank won't work in multifamily situations, certanly does not work in our parks and ball fields (where much of that bottled water is consumed), does not even work at businesses. Only deposit legislation will secure the return of these items in significant numbers. The only people calling for RecycleBank as the answer to the bottle bill are the large grocers who would love to see the bottles and cans out of their stores. They may know the grocery business, but they know nothing about curbside recycling collection. RecycleBank is not the answer to a modernized bottle bill here in Oregon!

  • spicey (unverified)

    $0.25 per container. Minimum

  • Mike Dougherty (unverified)

    Why is it that beverage containers are the only targeted post consumer product? Why can't we take responsibility to curb side recycle. In Germany you won't find litter all over, the garbage companies provide a recycle bin (largest) compost bin (next largest) and garbage bin (smallest). If recycle material was in the garbage then it would not be picked up. Why legislate personal responsibility and why blame corporations for individuals inaction in using curbside recycling. By the way don't you think those that don't curbside are also the same ones that will not bring the bottle to the store for 5 cents? Kind of funny, walk around the state capitol and find a recycle bin.

  • Larry McDonald (unverified)

    The fundamental and essential fallacy is that anyone other than the state is getting the deposit. The deposit should be 15 cents per container with the business or agency redeeming the bottle for recycling (grocer, curbside collection company, independent agency) getting 10 cents for each container returned. They would then be obliged to pass along 5 cents for each container returned by an individual or non-profit group.

    The payments should be transmitted to the state monthly in the same way that sales taxes (in saner states) are remitted.

    Finally, in all the debate over money, everybody seems to be losing track of the desirable end of reducing waste... NOT what's profitable or even costs least for whomever is doing the returns.

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    As I've said over and over, there is NO reason to add on additional money to each of the cans/bottles to go to the place handling the returns.

    The places handling the returns are the grocery stores or other stores that sell the cans/bottles. The stores already get money for handling these -- it's in the price you pay when you buy the product.

    The store knows those cans/bottles are going to come back at some point. They include that in the cost of the product.

    They just want to be able to get rid of the responsibility, but continue to charge the same amount (with the 5 cent fee, of course).

    Any kind of curbside program isn't going to work in multi-family situations unless you do some major changes in how things are done.

    I just received my new recycle/environmental guide from the city of Gresham. In it, there's an article on how all customers are now going to receive the large trash can-type Curby containers in place of one of their Curby containers. They'll of course keep one Curby for their glass items.

    These large blue containers are what apartment complexes have now. Typically they have around 3-4 since they're required to have access for at least 4 types of recycling. Most will have a cardboard bin and then either 3 or 4 of the big containers. That's for an entire complex. In my case, we have approx. 300 units, many of which are 3 bedrooms. So a single family household gets one of those containers, but our 300 unit complex gets a handful. And we wonder why people don't recycle.

    I'm actually in the process of reactivating my neighborhood association. It's currently inactive because there is not anyone to head it up. It's also the neighborhood with the highest number of apartment units in the entire city -- a pretty big feat since about half our space is taken up by Mt Hood Community College, Mt Hood Hospital, Hall Elementary and Hall Park. One of the things I want to push for is a requirement for more access to recycling.

  • Original Web Solutions (unverified)

    Really disappointing that the industry is going after such a successful program in our state.

    This has become such a part of our life, the only logical choice is to expand it to all other item we use regularly.

    It works!

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