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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Oregon Bottle Bill

Air Date: Week of

Nassem Rakha reports on a bottle recycling initiative in Oregon to expand the variety of containers citizens may turn in for cash. Rakha reports that proponents find it to be a practical progression on what is already in place, while opponents say it will be complicated and cumbersome.


Ps Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Each year Oregonians recycle more than one billion beer and soda containers, thanks to the passage 25 years ago of a bottle bill. Like measures enacted in many other states, Oregon's anti-litter bottle law requires all carbonated and malt beverages to carry a refundable deposit. Two years after the law was enacted, roadside trash in Oregon was reduced by 80%. In November, Oregon voters will decide whether they want to expand the program to include a wider variety of containers. Supporters of the initiative say it's a logical next step in the recycling movement. But opponents say it will make recycling in Oregon too complicated. Nassem Rakha reports.

(Traffic. Bottles and cans spilling)

RAKHA: Dwayne and his partner Gwen carry a large box filled with empty beer and pop containers to a nearby store. Their load comes from an afternoon of what Dwayne calls dumpster diving and road gliding, essentially scouring the streets for cash-paying trash.

DWAYNE: Me and a friend of mine, if we're driving down the road or whatever, and you know, or we just happen to be somewhere waiting for somebody, we'll walk around the neighborhood or whatever, walk around the parking lot. And if we find anything we'll stick them in this trunk, and he always recycles. And this is another way of making, you know, helping recycle and making a few dollars.

RAKHA: But there are many bottles Dwayne and Gwen won't pick up because they don't pay. Currently only carbonated and malt beverages like beer and soda have a deposit. Yet up to 15% of the drinks sold in the state don't fall into that category. Chris Taylor, the coordinator for the campaign to expand the bottle bill, says these so-called New Age drinks, like fruit juice, ice tea, sports drinks, and water, should be included in the bottle bill. Mr. Taylor says people like Dwayne and Gwen need an incentive to pick up and return bottles, and so do consumers who often buy these single-serve drinks while away from home.

TAYLOR: As it gets thrown out of the window of your car, that's what gets thrown on the side of the river when people are out on their boats, and that's what gets left on the beach. Talk to the people who are out there trying to clean up this mess. They'll tell you that they find thousands and thousands of these non-deposit containers.

RAKHA: Opponents of the expansion, which include the state's largest newspaper, the industry group United Grocers of America, and drink manufacturers like Quaker Oats, maker of Snapple, say the initiative could harm Oregon's current bottle bill by making it too confusing, complex, and costly. To make the point, Jill Thorne, a spokesperson for the campaign opposing the expansion, pulls out 2 similar bottles of Sutter Hill wine. Under the new bill the regular wine would continue to be exempt from the bottle bill, while the other, a new alcohol-free wine, would require a deposit. Ms. Thorne says there is no need to expand the bottle bill because Oregonians already use the state's curbside recycling to return 45% of non-deposit bottles.

THORNE: Well right now, we just take the stuff out and leave it at the curbside. It's easy. You don't have to stand in line, you don't have to take the stuff back to the grocery store and find you've made the wrong decision and then what do you do with it?

RAKHA: But supporters of the initiative say it is the current law which confuses consumers, who see no logical reason to exclude juice and water bottles that come in virtually the same containers as beer and soda. They say a deposit would improve recycling rates. Yet grocers say more bottles mean more expense to them and eventually to consumers. They say the expansion of the bottle bill would force stores to double the labor and space required to collect and store bottles. Under the current bill, merchants are not paid to collect beverage containers. Though most agree that customers generally end up spending their bottle refund at the store. The campaign for the expansion of the bottle bill has raised $33,000 while their opponents have raised more than a million dollars to convince Oregon voters that the expansion is bad for the state. Over the past 25 years, this kind of big spending has defeated bottle bills in 30 states. Advocates for the expansion hope Oregon won't be the 31st. For Living on Earth, this is Nassem Rakha.



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