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.