A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

At 50 years old, what the Bottle Bill needs

Written July 12th, 2021 by Hasso Hering

A the Albany Bottle Drop on Santiam Highway Boulevard on Monday afternoon.

Whether you remembered it or not, this year is the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Oregon Bottle Bill. And if the Albany Bottle Drop is any indication, Oregon’s deposit-and-redemption program for bottles and cans needs an upgrade.

This year the legislature passed a resolution commemorating and praising the law. A summary of the resolution recalls that in 2013, the legislature “authorized a redemption center program to improve customer convenience and reduce the burden on retailers to accept and process empty containers, known as Bottle Drops.”

“Improve customer convenience?” My experience may not be typical. But every time I have visited the Bottle Drop at 2141 Santiam Hwy. S.E. recently, the place has been crowded, understaffed, and not all that clean.

There’s only one of these redemption centers in Albany, and all the big retailers rely on it. So do many of their customers, who save up empties until they have several bags full and then go stand in line waiting for one of the self-service machines to be free.

You don’t have to do that. You can buy green plastic Bottle Drop bags, mark them with stickers bearing your account code, and drop them off at your leisure, pushing them through a little gate from the outside. A sign used to say two bags only at a time. But people arrive and unload half a dozen bags or more.

Inside the place, behind the gate, the bags of empties sometimes stack up so it takes a heavy push to get another one in. On one recent night the wall of green bags when the gate was opened was so solid and firm that no more could be pushed in at all. Another time, the gate would not open and a sign said it was out of service.

On Monday afternoon, the lone attendant was working hard trying to keep up — clearing the mountain of green bags in the back room and then, back at the service desk, hand-sorting empties for one customer before selling new bags to a couple of others waiting in line. Markers on the floor warned of wet spots where empties evidently had not been completely empty and had to be mopped up.

The legislature this year had a bill (Senate Bill 847) to create a 15-member task force to recommend how the law should be expanded to more containers, like wine bottles, and what other changes should be made. The bill had the unanimous and bipartisan support of the Senate Committee on Energy and Environment, but it died in the Ways and Means Committee after that.

Even without the benefit of a recommendation from a task force of industry insiders and others, I know what would make the Bottle Bill better. Set up more redemption centers. Maybe one for every 20,000 people in a market. That would give Albany at least three, instead of the one that’s overloaded and overworked.

Either that, or just repeal the deposit requirement and pass a law requiring that empty bottles and cans must be placed into the nearest recycling bin. Come to think of it, that’s where my empties are going if returning them for the deposit becomes any more of a pain. (hh)

15 responses to “At 50 years old, what the Bottle Bill needs”

  1. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    I bet the Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative is not complaining.

    The co-op is owned by Oregon beverage distributors and grocery retailers. They operate the redemption centers and manage the money flow (deposit and reimbursement).

    Every time you discard a container in your recycle bin and forgo a reimbursement the co-op makes money. They have a perverse incentive to make the redemption and reimbursement process a stinky, time consuming, and unpleasant experience.

    This gives real meaning to the slogan, “green new deal.”

    • Lundy says:

      Aside from the non-redeemed empties, how does the co-op make money?

      • Gordon L. Shadle says:

        They are a not-for-profit cooperative business made up of hundreds of for-profit Oregon distribution companies and retailers.

        Here is an interesting story that describes how these for-profit “special interests leverage good intentions into cash.”


        • Lundy says:

          Thanks Gordon, I will check it out. I used to be a huge fan of the bottle bill but not anymore. My way of dealing with the hassle that it’s become is to donate all of my empties to SafeHaven. I’m happy to support the humane society, and if they’re willing to deal with the headache of redemption, more power to them.

        • Scott Bruslind says:

          Thanks for 2017 WW piece citation: nice review and outline of the arguments and actors. No good reason that the private sector can’t do this well. Also, no good reason against demanding greater transparency regarding the $30MM surplus sloshing around the distribution channel.
          Every time I see the Bottle Drop picture- folks standing in line on front of the machines- I think of video poker and that the Oregon Lottery should get involved and include the element of chance.
          So, take 10-50% of the $30MM available and have golden, $100 tickets spewed out along with redemption receipts- use the OR Lottery algorithm proven to be so addictive. Each location, each day would be allotted so many (quite a few, actually) dispensed. Turn a mundane, rather sticky chore into gaming fun.

    • Cheryl P says:

      I know you love your conspiracy theories Gordon, but I have to call BS on you and the article you cited.

      Bottle redemption costs money and it starts at the retail level. While stores are reimbursed for the redemption money they pay out to the public, they weren’t reimbursed for the costs associated with redemption…like labor and storage. Next are the distributors which at one time used to be local…like the Pepsi Co in Corvallis who used to sell direct to the stores. Along with the larger labor and storage costs, they also have additional costs like trucks, fuel/oil, and maintenance. And for co-ops, not only do they have the expenses of the retailers and distributers, but they also have additional capital and operating costs. But of course, neither you or the article mentions any or these costs…it’s just gross profit and ‘corporate greed’.

      I would like to draw your attention to a report submitted to Senators Mark Hatfield, James Jeffords and Paul Henry back in 1990 from the US General Accounting Office about the potential effects of a nation beverage container deposit law. The Results in Brief were:

      Existing studies generally conclude that beverage container deposit laws entail additional capital and operating costs to the beverage industry
      but also benefit the environment by reducing litter, conserving energy and natural resources, and diverting solid waste away from landfills. However, these studies generally disagree about the magnitude of both the costs and benefits. We believe that quantifying a national law’s potential costs and benefits with a high degree of confidence is unlikely.

      Although deposit systems can divert potential revenue away from curbside recycling programs, most states with a deposit law have found that
      local curbside programs can coexist with deposit systems. Curbside and deposit systems in combination are more costly than either is alone, but deposit systems’ costs are borne primarily by the beverage industry while curbside program costs are borne by municipalities***. If curbside and deposit systems in combination continue to divert a greater amount of solid waste away from landfills, as landfill disposal costs increase, a dual curbside/deposit system becomes more cost-effective for municipalities.

      *** This only applies to cities that run their own garbage and recycling programs.

      So now that we have established that there is a big difference between Gross Profit and Net Profit, let’s move on to how the doubling of the redemption rate was going to double income. The problem with that is that it assumes that redemption rates won’t increase…which is beyond stupid since the purpose of increasing the rate was to increase redemption…which it did. At the time the article was written, the redemption rate was 64%. Most of the reason for the decline was because a nickel wasn’t worth any amount of hassle and you have a recycling bin sitting out in your garage. In 2017 redemption rates increased to 73%, 81% in 2018, and 86% in 2019. It was expected to rise to 90% in 2020, but Covid happened.

      So let’s do some simple math…100,000 bottles at $0.05 = $5000 – 64% = $1800 Gross Profit. 100,000 bottles at $0.10 – 86% = $1400 Gross Profit. Now I’m not a mathematician, just an accountant, but I’m sensing a loss of Gross Income here, not an increase. Now I know that we are talking millions of dollars, but even if you add three more zeros, the outcome is still the same…LESS MONEY. And even if the Gross Profit is in the millions, so are the costs.

  2. don says:

    They need to have some way to deal with large quantities. Youth collect bottles and then drive 15 miles each direction and have limited amount they can do each time.

  3. James Engel says:

    A second location in Albany, say towards the south would help.

  4. Patricia Eich says:

    Hasso, I tried the Bottle Drop in Albany when it first opened and had the same experience. Crowded and dirty. Never went back. I just save cans and water bottles for fund raising drives. Any glass bottles I set by the glass recycling container on Industrial Way for other people to pick up and get the money for returning them. It’s just the two of us at home now and we hardly ever drink soda. We don’t have the large number of recyclables that a large family would have so it works for us.

  5. GregB says:

    That place gives me the creeps. Besides that, it is dirty, poor access off and on from the highway, parking lot is tight and scary and, as it has been said before, the drop for the green bags is stuffed full many times. If I owned the Mexican restaurant next door, I’d raise hell about all the traffic going to the bottle drop. The only saving grace is the green bags and ya don’t have to drive all over town to the grocery stores looking for a machine that works to stuff your bottles in. Well, I guess the machines at the recycle center are better than the grocery stores. I am not about to stand in line and try them.

  6. centrist says:

    I remember how clean the place was when it opened, as well as the machinery. The store-based operations were filthy and not dependable. But then, they weren’t a primary focus for the stores.
    The complaints in this and other columns tell me the place has been so successful that it is overwhelmed. JE has made a cogent point about a second location.

  7. Bill Kapaun says:

    Why not give the large bags away for free? I would think that would save $.35 worth of wear & maintenance on the individual machines.

    Why not have Republic Services pick up 100 can bags at your residence? Give us something for the $2.95/mo. EXTRA they are going to charge us for empty yard waste carts they are allegedly dumping during the Winter.

  8. hj.anony1 says:

    “..the one attendant…” you post HH. Spot on. Here is what I think is a real problem.

    OBRC seems to be in a constant hiring mode. Well constantly seeking worker bees for their dirty, smelly operating…limited (geographically wise) centers. Have you ever seen the same employee there twice. NO! They have an extremely HIGH turnover rate.

    Maybe if they PAID more, much more and provided safer work environs things would not be so undesirable. Undesirable when we go for or redemption! Just a thought.

    And they could retain their worker BEEs.

  9. Cheryl P says:

    Back in the day “bottle return” was so simple…you took your bottles/can to any store and a clerk would count them and issue a ticket (for larger stores) or just hand you cash (convenience stores). Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. Even on a busy day, you weren’t in line for more than a few minutes.

    Then someone came up with the ‘vending’ machines for larger stores and you’d have a bank of them outside. It was supposed to be ‘convenient’ for the customers since they didn’t have to wait for a clerk and/or for the store to be open. And of course, less costly for the stores since the machine crushed the bottles and cans so less room was needed and they didn’t have to pay a dedicated employee. But the reality was…half of the time they didn’t work…either a bottle/can got stuck or the bag was full and the machine stopped, and there was the issues that a machine only took a particular bottle or can.

    Then someone came up with ‘redemption centers’ and new ‘vending’ machines. The new machines were nice in that they accept any bottle/can, it was nice to have recycling bins for cardboard and plastic, and I greatly appreciated being able to wash my hands afterwards, but what idiot thought it would be a good idea to have only one freaking center for a population of OVER 50,000 people?!?! And only ONE person working at a time?!?


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