A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

BottleDrop’s green bags: The money angle

Written March 2nd, 2022 by Hasso Hering

A busy time at the Albany BottleDrop on Feb. 24, 2022.

After a visit at the Albany BottleDrop last month to drop off a couple of green bags with empties, I got to thinking about the money angle involved in that particular chore.

As you know, the BottleDrop in Albany and similar operations elsewhere were started so that participating retailers don’t have to deal with the dirty work of accepting and storing empty and unwashed containers that customers return for the deposit.

For the convenience of people who don’t want to spend time feeding empties into the return machines, there is the green-bag program. Once you’ve set up an account, you get green plastic bags from the BottleDrop, attach a sticker that identifies the bag as coming from you, fill the bag with empties, and drop it off at the center, shoving it through an opening at the outside of the building.

The Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative runs the BottleDrop centers. It has a website to explain the program. There, I found what it costs to take advantage of the green bags. I’ve used the bags for two or three years and should have looked that up sooner.

The cooperative charges $2 for a pack of 10 bags, or 20 cents a bag. Then it charges 40 cents as a fee for handling each bag that is dropped off.

If you buy soft drinks mostly in 2-liter bottles, and if you can get 20 of those bulky bottles into a bag, the containers in the bag bring a total refund of $2. Minus the purchase price of the bag and the handling fee, that should add $1.40 to your account.

But if you returned the bottles individually, you’d get the full refund. The convenience of the green-bag program costs you 30 percent of the deposits you have paid.

Small as the sums may be, the economics work out better if you buy beverages in only small cans. You can get many more of those into each bag, so your return per bag is greater. You also don’t have to go to the drop-off door as often.

None of that, however, beats the convenience of returning empties one by one or in small batches to the store. That method is still available in at least one small Ray’s Food Place in Jackson County.

There, they have a clean self-serve bottle return machine in a back room. When you go grocery shopping, you drop your empties in there and get the full refund when you check out.

Too bad much of Oregon — and Albany too — got too big for a simple deposit-and-refund system like that. (hh)


19 responses to “BottleDrop’s green bags: The money angle”

  1. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    Yes, bigness of population means bigness in the redemption solution.

    So stay focused on the big picture.

    The return rate in the OBRC system is up to 90%. Functionally, that means every bottle is being returned.

    And the deposit on the 10% that is unclaimed does not go into a government trough somewhere. The money goes back to the privately run cooperative (OBRC) and invested in recycling infrastructure and efficiencies.

    So cheer the regional centers. Cheer the green bags. Cheer when you can send your redemption into your kids 529 account.

    Going back to the simple days of returning empties one-by-one to each store would probably mean a lower return rate overall. And who wants that?

  2. Bill Kapaun says:

    I’ve thought the bags should be free. It’d reduce the number of machines required, the space to house them and a lot of wear & tear.on them.

  3. Katherine says:

    If you have 50 bottles or less You can use customer service. You dump Them and then they sort them and give you your $5. That’s an option that would work for those who buy the big liter bottles.

  4. Don says:

    I have been trying to get some of our elected legislators to visit with me and try to give them some ideas to help encourage people to recycle. People drive in 15 miles each way add that to your cost.

  5. John kernan says:

    Well thats if you get all your green bags counted past 3 drops one bag is always missing from the count at the albany location contacted bottle drop and no reply

  6. James Engel says:

    Hey H.H.,, it sure beats waiting in line in all kinds of weather on the west side of Fred Meyers former bottle drop! We get bags from the Safe Haven animal shelter on ‘ole Hwy 34. Just fill the bag & drop it off at the can/bottle place & I’m presuming they get credit.

  7. MarK says:

    I love the outside drop off. I usually wait until I have at least 3 full bags. Much better than going inside and waiting with a bunch of third world characters and vagabonds. It just feels dirty and unsafe inside.

    • Abe Cee says:

      Makes me wonder why there isn’t a redemption center near Walmart for the same people groups.

  8. Donna Ott says:

    I wouldn’t mind running my own through a machine if the lines weren’t so long. The daily limit per customer is not enforced. We are being ripped off with the green bags, but my time standing in line is a bigger waste. Thanks for this analysis anyway. I always look forward to your insight.

  9. Michele says:

    It doesn’t pay anyone who doesn’t live in Albany to drive all that way to drop their cans/bottles. I live 40 miles away and that would just be stupid. An 80 mile round
    trip that doesn’t even pay for the gas to get there. No wonder people don’t bother
    recycling. Either get more bottle drops or quit yapping about how people drive
    too much. The cost of gas, wear on my car, my time, the use of the road, and any
    pollution all for a few recycled cans. Phooey.

  10. Carla Mundt says:

    Today I took a paper bag full of returnables to Safe Haven Thrift Store. They were happy to get them. Money for cats and dogs at Safe Haven.

  11. Rosetta Murphy says:

    We drop ours off in The Little door outside the bottle drop. Always making sure that we open the bottle drop door with our own key and only dropping off one bag at a time. To make sure we get full credit. Because we weren’t getting full credit for more than one bag a lot of times. After we figured out drop off one bag at a time make sure we unlock the door with our key and not just throw it in when someone else has the door open it’s been better for us. Also the fact that if you shop at Fred Meyers you get 20% more return on your bottle refund makes it worthwhile.

  12. Mitch says:

    I leave my bags of cans in the back of my truck and a homeless guy processes the cans for half of the return and brings me my half. It works out well for both of us.

  13. Bob Bush says:

    Advice of the day: QUIT turning LEFT coming out of the bottle drop…..guaranteed accident gonna happen.

  14. Lundy says:

    As soon as the redemption system evolved away from one in which you could easily bring empties back to the store where you bought them — and I don’t mean by feeding them into balky machines — I immediately began to think a lot less of Oregon’s bottle bill. It still feels like a racket, especially to someone like myself who doesn’t live in a town with a bottle drop, but I assuage my hard feelings by dropping off bags of empties at the SafeHaven thrift store in Lebanon. I’m happy to donate to the humane society and also happy to opt out of the redemption process, so even though I don’t like the system overall, doing what I do feels like a win-win.

  15. Julie V says:

    I love the redemption center and green bag program. It’s easy to use. I am willing to pay for the choice to use the bags. I can easy fit a mix of 70-90 cans and bottles per bag depending on size and glass vs plastic. I usually redeem my funds at Fred meyer where you get 20 percent plus. So I more than make back the bag fee. I’ve had a bag go missing on occasion and customer service has fixed it. The center inside is efficient. Lines can be long but move fast and the machines process cans and bottles at a rapid rate.
    I hated just walking through the tunnel at Fred meyer that stunk like stale beer and machines always breaking down. It was a pain having to return store brand cans/ bottles to each individual store.
    Hopefully we get a center in each town soon.

  16. Cheryl P says:

    I put my bottles and cans in a regular garbage bag and put them in the garage. Used to be that some high school club would come through the neighborhood doing a fund raiser; I’d open my garage and make their day. Haven’t seen anyone in over five years now…shame. Nowadays I just load up my vehicle, drive to the bottle drop and start handing out bags to folks in line.

    I miss the days of being able to take my bottles and cans to the grocery store. Even when they got rid of the personal service and went to machines, it wasn’t too bad, but only having a single place in a town of 50 thousand plus people is absolutely ludicrous!


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