Flood of bottle bill changes put local stores at risk

By Alyssa Williams,
BIZ Reporter,

The Oregon House Committee on Environment and Water voted to drop wine and liquor bottles last Thursday from the potential amendments to House Bill 2184 which would expand the almost 40-year-old Oregon Bottle Bill, Oregon’s beverage container return law. It was also decided to increase the deposit from a nickel to a dime only if bottle-bill recycling falls below 80 percent by 2015. The committee has yet to deliberate on the full bill.

Other possible additions to the bill based on recommendations from the Bottle Bill Task Force would require deposits for bottles and cans containing sports drinks, coffee, tea, juice and similar non-carbonated drinks, as well as adding 90 redemption centers across the state.

The state Department of Environmental Quality supports the updates to the bottle bill in belief that it would better litter control and recycling, cause an increase in energy and greenhouse gas savings and build redemption centers to provide Oregonians with a more convenient container return system.

However, Joe Gilliam, president of the Northwest Grocery Association, fights against the 10 amendments to House Bill 2184 in large part because grocers and retailers cannot handle the volume of new containers and cost of 90 redemption centers.

“Everyone thinks it’s free because industry pays for it,” commented Gilliam about the millions of dollars each year Oregon grocery stores pay for bottle and can returns, as well as the large recycling processing costs.

In a letter to the House Environment and Water Committee dated March 3 of this year, Gilliam and others against the legislation urged that House Bill 2184 be set aside in order to give bottle bill stakeholders such as manufacturers, distributors and retailers time to effectively implement return systems initiated by SB 707 effective Jan. 1, 2009. The law expanded the bottle bill to bottled and flavored water and required grocers to accept bottles and cans sold by other retailers.

Distributors pay retailers the 5-cent redemption for each container returned to the distributor for recycling, with unredeemed deposits retained by distributors or retailers. Yet, with no government assistance or handling fees, Gilliam points out that retailers and wholesalers don’t have the funds to pay for both the proposed redemption centers and the customer return to grocery stores collection system.

“People put a can in a machine and think it disappears,” said Gilliam about the behind-the-curtain process of recycling. “It actually has a long way to travel.”

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