Oregon: move to create container redemption centers

The state of Oregon is considering a change to its system for recycling bottles and cans which came into force in 1972. Ever since, the state has required a deposit on beer and soft drinks containers …

The state of Oregon is considering a change to its system for recycling bottles and cans which came into force in 1972. Ever since, the state has required a deposit on beer and soft drinks containers and residents have been taking their empties back to stores to get their nickels (USD 0.05). Recycling rates for cans and bottles reached roughly 80% as “no deposit, no return” containers disappeared. However, the system would change under a proposal by large grocers and beverage distributors that would route most of the empties to separate “redemption centers”. The plan calls for 90 new industry-financed centers, enough to free 250 of Oregon“s 300 large grocery stores from the tiresome business of handling returns. Large grocers receive three-quarters of the state“s deposit containers. Returned containers are likely to increase from 1 January 2009 when a nickel deposit will be added to water bottles sold in Oregon. Industry advocates say the centers would increase efficiency and customer service. They say that by reducing grocer opposition, the centers could help extend the bottle bill to cover containers that do not require deposits now, such as sports drinks, juice drinks, and bottled coffees and teas. But high-volume centers may raise neighborhood concerns and reduce convenience for recyclers, lowering the redemption rate. Jeremiah Baumann, a lobbyist with Environment Oregon, said his group has no problems with the centers if small-scale recyclers can still redeem containers at grocery stores. Of the 11 states with container deposits, only Oregon and Michigan do not have redemption centers, and they have the highest redemption rates. “A big reason Oregon“s bottle bill works so well is we“ve got the most extensive return system imaginable”, he said. “The place you take your bottles is the place you“re going to shop anyway”. Grocers proposed the idea to the 2007 Legislature without success. But they have since gained support and filled in the details, which they presented to the state“s bottle bill task force in the week ending 17 May 2008. The task force is supposed to come up with bottle bill recommendations by 1 November in advance of the 2009 session. It is to evaluate whether to require more containers to carry a deposit and whether to increase the USD 0.05 deposit, unchanged since the bill came into effect. John Andersen, president of Container Recovery Inc., which manages Portland-area deposits and returns, says reducing convenience is a big issue. But they promise to have at least one person on duty to assist recyclers at the centers and to give those with only a few containers the option of a hand count instead of using the often cranky “reverse deposit” machines found at large grocery stores. Centers could also accept larger loads than grocery stores, which can turn away recyclers after they redeem 144 containers in a day, Mr. Andersen said. The centers would include storage space, reverse vending machines and restrooms, he said, and be restricted to retail areas, perhaps partnering with charities such as Goodwill or the Salvation Army. Mr. Andersen wants to begin with a couple of centers in 2009 and eventually spread them throughout the state. Costs, as much as USD 16 million a year, would be covered by grocers and distributors, not taxpayers. Distributors already receive well in excess of USD 10 million a year in unredeemed deposits. Recycling advocates such as the Association of Oregon Recyclers praise industry for offering to pay for the centers but say the Legislature needs to set standards for the centers to make sure they are open to public scrutiny. The group favors relating an increase in deposit amounts, opposed by grocers and distributors, to redemption rates. If the rates fall as centers open, deposit amounts should go up, an incentive to run the centers well. Industry groups want the Legislature to delay discussion of raising deposits or adding new containers until 2011.