Friday, March 30, 2007

Fightin' in Support of Oregon's Bottle Bill

By Brian Rohter

I am compelled to respond to an article in today’s Oregonian that was headlined, “For Grocers, ‘bottle bill” is fightin’ words”. The “bottle bill” is indeed “fightin’ words” for this grocer. We’re fighting for our environment and for the livability of our communities. Collecting returnable bottles and cans is definitely a hassle for us, but since we sell the drinks in the first place, it sure seems like we have the greatest responsibility to make certain the bottles don’t end up in our landfills. In today’s story, Joe Gilliam, a lobbyist for the Oregon Grocery Association (an organization that New Seasons Market resigned from last year as a result of the OGA’s lobbyists putting their own self interest before the community’s needs) is quoted as saying, “We can sit back and kill bottle bills. We’ve got the money to do it. We’ve got the political know how to do it.” Mr. Gilliam also states, “I think it’s a pretty fair guess to say that Oregonians will hate the bill. . . . It will expose them to health hazards they won’t accept.”

New Seasons Market is one grocery store chain that couldn’t disagree more. We wholeheartedly support the expansion of the bottle bill. Oregon’s current law is 35 years old, and while it was ground breaking in 1971, it desperately needs to be updated. First, the nickel deposit isn’t as much of a motivation to return the bottles as it used to be. But, even more importantly, the existing law doesn’t include most plastic bottles. As a result, a large number of plastic juice bottles, tea bottles and water bottles just get tossed. According to the state Department of Environmental Quality, Oregonians threw away about 125 million empty water bottles in 2005. That’s just plain crazy and a waste of a valuable resource.

It’s true that dealing with bottle refunds is a bit of a logistical nightmare for supermarkets. Someone has to take them back from the customers. Then we have to assign a staff member at each store to deal with sorting the returns (although this does provide employment opportunities for some of the developmentally challenged members of our community). We also have to find a place to keep the empties until the distributor comes to pick them up, which means that at any given moment, at each store, we have up to 30 huge plastic bags piled up in a storeroom. But the argument that accepting the returns is virtually impossible or somehow creates new food safety exposure, is simply self serving and disingenuous.

For us, when you consider the current alternatives, the choice is clear. As former Governor Tom McCall might have said, this is a “shameless threat to our environment.” We’re standing up for the quality of life we all know and expect in Oregon.

There are a few different versions of bills that have been considered by the legislature this session. I plan on going down to Salem to testify in favor of helping to protect Oregon’s environment by updating our recycling standards. I’d like to be able to tell our legislators what you think. Are you willing to pay a dime (or more) instead of a nickel for deposit? Do you support expanding the law to include all plastic bottles and aluminum cans? Are you willing to make a trip to a “redemption center” or would you rather continue to do your recycling at the grocery store? Please let us know.


steve apotheker said...

Thank you Brian for your comments in the spirit of problem solving. Under the current law many big grocers like Fred Meyer Hollywood put in reverse vending machines that are very inconvenient. Some people stopped taking containers back to the stores and the redemption rate fell. The grocers liked that because handling costs were reduced. The distributors liked it even more because they got to keep a nickel for every unredeemed container.

Beverage producers need to be responsible for every bottle bill container that they SELL, not just for the ones that come back to the stores. I think we need a flexible law that can adapt to changes in consumer habits. It is hard to predict what will be convenient in the future.

The new bottle bill should have a recycling rate as its main goal. And, there should be consequences for not reaching the goal, such increase the deposit, increase the refund, add more places that accept deposit containers. When the first bottle bill passed, curbside recycling was not an option. The answer to your question of “redemption center” or “return to retail” will change over time in response to our lifestyle changes and different recycling options.

The second major change is that we should look at the sustainability of the whole beverage container life cycle. After all isn’t the Governor touting Oregon’s leading role in sustainable development. Why do we allow beer and soft drinks to be packaged and sold in nonrecyclable paperboard packaging? why don’t plastic beverage bottles have little or no recycled content? Why do we allow the trucks that deliver new beverages and pick up the used containers to burn fossil fuels and pollute the air and generate greenhouse gases.

I woulld urge you to put your management cap on when thinking about your recommended changes to the bottle bills. Think of the bottle bill as one of your sustainable programs. A good management system starts with a goal. It also considers the impacts of “how”something is done, not just worry about the outcome. Finally, every successful management system always has a feedback loop so when the system is not working as well as it can, it has the ability to change. Oregon had a vision of change 36 years ago. We should focus on updating the vision, and let the industry take care of the operational details just like they did with the current bill.

Gloria Ellis said...


I totally agree with your stance on this issue. I could see paying a dime per bottle, but also would be fine with a place to take plastic bottles other than the grocery store. If you are starting a petition, I will sign.


H C Triplett said...

I’m all for the Bottle bill, expand it. Go for it. Thanks for all you do our communities.
I would like to continue to come to stores to do returns, as when we were in Califoria was hard to Know where to take them. Very few places, minimum hours.

JAB said...

Honestly, I don’t collect cans and return them to the grocery store. One month’s worth of cans is about $3. Instead of getting all sticky, I’d rather put them in the recycling bin at my apartment complex, which accepts aluminum, plastic, glass, and paper. Why not encourage curbside recycling?

Valerie Lyon said...

Thank you for going to the Capitol on this. I’ll pay a dime and would love to have all cans on the list. It bugs me that only pop is on the current deposit list.

SMS & JWF said...


We are in support of expanding the bottle bill, and would be willing to pay a dime instead of a nickel for deposit. We favor expansion to include all plastic bottles and aluminum cans.

We normally do not recycle at the store, and instead do curbside recycling. But for some folks curbside recycling isn’t an option or its more worthwhile to collect the funds, and it works best to take the recyling to the store. If the collection site had to switch from grocery stores to an alternate “redemption center” then the redemption center would need to be central and very accessible to everyone in the community. Given the high cost of property near city centers, its more likely they’d set up redemption centers on the outskirts of town making it harder for people to recycle, especially those who are homeless and collect bottles to recycle as a source of income. Our preference would be to have grocery stores continue to offer recycling onsite.

If there is a petition to sign, we’d be willing to sign it when we come to do our grocery shopping.

Rhain said...

I’m careful that none of the bottles and cans I buy end up in landfills, but I never take them to a recycle center. There isn’t a strong enough infrastructure right now to support the necessary recycling. Standing in line for 30 minutes while several people go through giant bags of cans and store personnel come out to service the ancient machines so I can get the cash deposits back on the the handful of beverage containers I recycle each month. My time is worth more than the 80 cents per hour this averages out to. I know homeless people wander my neighborhood collecting the nickels out of my little yellow bins. Before I moved here I used to give them to my neighbors kids to whom 6 nickles was a windfall.

I totally support the mission to ensure our environment is cleaner, and landfills are smaller, but increasing the price of deposits and the numbers and types of containers isn’t enough. Recycling needs to be quick and easy or many people won’t participate. I think this was the original intent of locating the returns at grocery stores, but it’s no longer the case. After a huge BBQ last summer I was carrying 4 bags of cans in my trunk for over a month because every time I attempted to return them there was an incredibly long line or a machine would break as I began to drop them in and I would be forced to pack them back into the trunk and try again. That is the real problem that must be resolved if recycling is to increase.

Ken Nichols said...

Making a trip to the store to return bottles/cans etc. is wasteful in both time and resources. Just as curbside delivery saves resources (and a great service), I think the recycling of different packaging is also best done at curbside. How can we get the recycling and waste disposal companies involved?

I also like to put costs where costs belong. In this way a producer has an incentive to consider alternative methods to produce or distribute the product. The Bottle bill, at present doesn’t give beverage companies an incentive to find other ways to distribute their products. It certainly has given consumers an incentive to recycle, which is fantastic.

Is it time to move the disposal cost of packageing material from the consumer to the producer?

On this topic I only have a few more questions.

bonnie said...

I’m all for the bottle bill expansion, but one question I think we all have to ask ourselves is this:
Why are we buying water in a little plastic bottle?
Oregon has wonderful munipal water in most areas and honestly, I’ve travel this entire country, urban and rural areas, and have encountered very few places where the mucipal water tasted undrinkable. It is a consumer phenomenon that we devote so much money and so many resources to bottled water when we can open a tap in almost any place in this country and get potable water. Frankly, I find it sad that Americans are so unwilling to carry a resuable portable container for water, like our grandparents did.
As for the other bottled beverages that an expanded bill will cover, why are we drinking high-calorie, sweeter-laden, nutritionally-deficient beverages on a regular basis?
There is a bigger issue here than just getting these bottles recycled, but I will absolutely support expanding the bottle bill if it will encourage people to recycle the bottles. And, perhaps a higher deposit will make people think twice about buying something they don’t need.

Burke said...

I support expanding the bottle bill! I would pay a dime or more for deposits on plastic and aluminum.

(As a side note, our family does not drink bottled water. Instead we use a water pitcher with a filter in it.)

Rick Winterhalter said...

As a member of the Association of Oregon Recycers working hard to develop a modernized bottle bill to all Oregonians, it is fantastic to see a retailer committed to the well being of the community and supportive of AOR’s efforts. And to all those taking an interest in this issue I encourage you to contact your state Representative and Senator supporting SB 707. Although, not the complete answer, AOR is encouraged by the provision in the bill to establish a Task Force with the charge to bring back a bill for the 2009 legislative session. Mr. Apotheker’s comments sum up the goals AOR is seeking in a modernized bill.

Several folks commented the curbside programs should be the answer for ready-to-drink beverage containers. When Oregon began curbside recycling the goal was to capture items consumed at home. At the time the proliferation of ready-to-drink beverage options seen today were not available. Containers included in the bottle bill are recycled at a rate twice that of water bottles with only the curbside option. Additionally, ready-to-drink containers without a deposit are twice as likely to be found on our roadsides and beaches than those containers with a deposit. Our curbside programs are outstanding and extremely convenient but they fail to capture many items consumed away from home.

I encourage you to contact your legislators ( to support SB707. For background and updates keep an eye on the AOR website ( You can also sign up for AOR e-alerts on that website.

Tom McCall said in his autobiography: “It sounds silly-but the innovative highlight of my ten years in elective state office was the passage and implementation of the Oregon Bottle Bill. “

jennifer said...

I live in an apartment complex, and my neighbors are constantly throwing garbage in with our recycleables, which reduces the chance that anything I save will even be recycled. Having lived in Michigan for several years, I wholeheartedly support a change in the bottle bill. I’ll gladly pay a 10 cent deposit if grocery stores are required to take all brands of cans and bottles back; it’s very frustrating (and not to mention absolutely ridiculous) to save my cans only to find that Fred Meyer won’t take back Safeway soda cans. I’d much rather have a viable option to recoup my deposits rather than literally throwing the money and materials away.

Beki Lincks said...

Just another reason I like shopping at New Seasons. You walk the walk.

Laurite T. said...

My understanding is that bottles that are returned are sterilized and reused, whereas the ones we put in the bins get recycled. Reuse is preferable to recycling in terms of resource use.

I live in a neighborhood where I can put my bottles and cans out and know that someone who has time and needs money will take them in to be returned. I also like the option of having the bin available where the refund can be donated to the schools - I didn’t know about that.

It would be great to see the bottle bille expanded and the refund increase so more containers would be reused and recycled.

Doug Johnson said...

Great article….good luck….and thank you for responding to the needs or our community rather than the typical board room profit motivated objectives of our Safeways, Fred Meyers, and other such stores. I hope you help make the necessary changes in the bottle bill so that our recycling program gets the updates it sorely needs. I’m glad I shop at a store, and will continue to do so, that promotes and encourages these steps that are necessary to bring our recycling program to a more responsible and earth friendly postion. Thank you for your efforts! We still bring back the plastic bags and yogurt containers to the store and appreciate your stores having the system that allows that process to continue. We are fortunate that we live in a complex in Beaverton that allows us to co-mingle most or our recycleables. The solution for the bottle neck at the stores might be to have the boy scouts or other such organizations go door to door and make a fund raiser and a positive function out of the whole problem. That may be a bit far fetched but it is the best idea that came to me at the moment. Thanks again for your efforts…your a bright light on an otherwise dismal and dark landscape in our legislative process.

Joe Gilliam - NWGA said...

I know by the way the Oregonian portrays the Northwest Grocery Association that many of you feel we are the bad guys in the Bottle Bill debate. Before you cast judgement upon us based on one reporter’s version of the debate, I respectfully ask you to consider some of the facts:

The grocer receives nothing in the form of compensation for the bottle bill. The containers cost us between 3 and 5 cents per container to process. This totals between $42m and $70m per year.

Oregon SOLV recieves no funding from the state or from the Bottle Bill System. Their efforts are privately funded by generous Oregon companies and individuals. However, they need an new source of funds to survive in the long term.

All the unredeemed nickels and scrap value, estimated at over $10 million per year by the DEQ, goes to the beverage distributors not the beverage producers or retailers. None of the profit is dedicated to litter or recycling efforts.

Consumers pay for the retailers expenses and the distributors profits in the price of their groceries. Deposit systems are the most expensive way to recycle a beverage container. Curbside is the most cost efficient.

For the redemption center supporters, it is estimated to cost between $80m to $100m per yearto run a network of 200 - 300 locations. Millions more for every new type of container added. This is extremely expensive and would require a new funding source. The high points are that they can be established away from the fresh food supply and could be expanded to accept electronics and household hazardous waste (solvents, thinners, etc.). The low points are the land aquistion, the extra trips that burn more fuel, and inconvenience for those who use public transportation, and the elderly and without access to a car.

Question: Would you be willing to pay 8 cents for every beverage container and get 5 cents back to pay for redemption centers?

For the curbside supporters, we think your are on the right track. Least expensive, already exists, no new infrastructure, no extras trips, seperate from food supply. Downside, multifamily housing systems needs improvement and it is not the silver bullet for litter control. For the most innovative system in the country, check out This system is pretty cool and pays for itself.

For those sick of the irresponsible consumers who litter their containers, we need to build into the curbside system a small revenue stream that funds Oregon SOLV and other groups. SOLV has 100,000 volunteers in 240 Oregon cities. It is an awesome force, but still a sleeping giant that needs food ($). Also, we need to breathe life back into our efforts to educate people (and kids) on the importance of not littering. Water bottles weren’t the only thing found on the beaches during the spring cleanup (tires, cigarette butts, straws, toys, wrappers, plastic lids, etc.)

The system is complex and a political shortcut (SB707) isn’t the answer. Thanks for your consideration. It will take a lot of cooperation and out-of-the-box thinking to renovate the Bottle Bill.

Nicole Kittersong said...

Yes! I would pay .10 or even .25 cents a bottle! And I would most likely bring the bottles down to my local Arbor Lodge New Seasons & put them into the “Cans for Schools” bin to donate to local schools! I love that program! I think it should be set up wherever cans & bottles are returned. I also agree that ALL bottles & cans should have the deposit, carbonated or not! Thanks for your commitment to the environement & sustainability. You guys are the best (& only) store for my family!