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)