Bottle Bill changes are worthy

by: ,

Oregon's Bottle Bill, requiring payment of 5 cents upon redemption of beer and soft drink containers, has remained largely unchanged since it was enacted in 1971. The House Committee on Energy and the Environment, where I'm a member, is now considering changes in the Bottle Bill.

An update for the Bottle Bill is long overdue. In 1971 beer and soft drinks represented the vast majority of beverage containers. Since then a great many new beverages have appeared on grocery shelves. Most notable is bottled water, a product practically unknown in 1971.

Carbonation in a beverage means the container can be redeemed. A flat version of the same beverage in an identical container cannot. Not surprisingly, consumers scratch their heads.

Last month the Oregon Senate passed SB 707 in a version that would expand the Bottle Bill to include containers of water and 'flavored water.' It also would require a retailer to redeem any brand if the retailer sells that kind of beverage. Current law only requires the retailer to redeem the brands it sells.

SB 707 would not change the 5 cent deposit, which has remained unchanged since 1971. It also would not move the containers out of stores and into redemption centers, as most grocers would like to see happen.

Our House Committee has held several hearings on SB 707. We learned that Oregon is one of 11 states that have a deposit-return system for beverage containers. All but one of those states has a 5 cent redemption amount.

Some other states have government-operated redemption centers. Oregon's Bottle Bill depends on beer and soft drink distributors and on grocers to make it work. Most of the containers in the Oregon system are handled by consortiums of beer and soft drink distributors who take the containers to centralized facilities to process them for material recycling.

All deposit-return systems for beverage containers collect more in deposits from consumers than is paid out in redemption. About 79 percent of all containers covered by Oregon's Bottle Bill are redeemed.

In Oregon the 5 cents on containers that are not returned end up with the beer and soft drink distributors. In effect, they handle the processing of returned containers in exchange for these unclaimed redemption amounts. Unlike Oregon, some states capture part of the unclaimed redemptions to use for public purposes and share a portion with grocers.

The Bottle Bill reflects the basic principle that a business selling a product to the public bears some responsibility for the recycling or proper disposal of that product. I endorse this principle and support an update for the Bottle Bill in order to advance it.

Furthermore, expanding the Bottle Bill to additional beverages will improve recycling. Only about 36 percent of non-Bottle Bill containers are recycled in Oregon.

At a minimum, the update should extend the Bottle Bill to water, as SB 707 would do. SB 707 also should be amended to clarify the meaning of 'flavored water'.

While I favor increasing the deposit from 5 cents, this appears unlikely to pass. I also favor sharing a portion of the unclaimed redemption amounts with grocers to cover the cost of handling returned containers. This, too, is unlikely to pass this session, particularly since the larger grocers seem to be working harder to stop expansion of the Bottle Bill rather than get paid to make the system work.

I would like to hear about this and other legislative issues. E-mails should be sent to rep.gregmacpher

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and regular mail to 900 Court St. N.E., Salem, OR 97301.

Rep. Greg Macpherson, Lake Oswego, represents Oregon House District 38.