This April, Oregon raised the statewide bottle deposit from 5 to 10 cents in hopes of encouraging consumers to recycle. Redemption rates calculated by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission fell from about 71 percent in 2012-13 to 68.3 percent in 2014 and 64.5 percent in 2015. By falling short of the state's goal of 80 percent for 2014-15, these rates triggered a mandatory increase required by state law.
But the higher deposit doesn't make the redemption process any easier, frustrating Oregonians who do our best to recycle but feel like we are throwing money away with the bottle deposit, no matter how hard we try.
Why the frustration? Well, recycling bottles is already a thankless task, but it's undoubtedly worsened by machines that reject many of our attempted deposits.
Some locations, including popular grocery chains like WinCo and Fred Meyer, offer hand-counts, but many limit the number of bottles you can redeem by hand-count and most deposit areas remain unstaffed. This means going inside the grocery store carrying your empty bottles, waiting in line for the customer service desk, then watching anxiously as the hapless employee called to the front of the store drops what they're doing to perform the unwanted task of counting your bottles by hand.
Even the Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative's BottleDrop sites routinely reject returns if the machine cannot read the label or the brand or the bar code isn't accepted. Employees keep a list of the rejected bar codes, but admit that it takes an indefinite amount of time to update their system once a new bar code is submitted for approval.
Codes submitted months ago still aren't accepted, and Oregon's burgeoning craft beer industry means new bar codes are created constantly. By the time their codes are entered into the system, limited-edition, small-batch local beers have been taken off the market, replaced by the next season's edition.
BottleDrop struggles to keep up with the influx of new bar codes, and Oregonians supporting local industry by purchasing small-scale craft beers, kombuchas or sodas are among those most likely to have trouble redeeming our deposits.
Luckily, BottleDrop allows patrons to abandon rejects in excess of their 50-item hand-count limit. Resigning yourself to the fact that they won't be accepted, you can leave your empties there and they'll still be recycled. But if you can't make the trek to one of Oregon's 20 BottleDrop locations, you probably don't have this option. There's no designated reject pile at the average redemption area, leaving would-be recyclers wondering whether we should just leave the empties in a pile in the middle of the room, mix them with the crushed cans spit out by the redemption machines, or lug them back to the car hoping they'll be accepted elsewhere.
We need a location where all bottles (or at least all bottles sold in Oregon) are accepted, or, if bottles continue to be rejected, a location where designated staff are available to hand-count unlimited quantities of rejected bottles. Otherwise, the situation looks pretty dismal — it's just too tempting to give up after bringing a bag of empty bottles and cans to redemption centers all over town, only to have them rejected time after time, dragging them back to the trunk of the car once again.