Oregon House votes to expand bottle system

SALEM — The state House voted Wednesday to overhaul Oregon's bottle deposit system that is credited with significantly boosting recycling and spawning similar systems around the world.

The vagaries of the bottle bill mean a plastic water or soda bottle would require a deposit, but a nearly identical iced tea bottle would not. Proponents said it's time to modernize the law so it applies to energy drinks, bottled coffee and other beverages that weren't around when the measure was first created in 1971.

"As the bottle bill turns 40 this year, it is showing signs of age," said Rep. Ben Cannon, D-Portland.

Lawmakers voted, 47-12, to make the deposit system apply to most glass, metal or plastic beverage container except for those that hold milk, wine or liquor. Their vote sends HB 3145 to the Senate.

The provision becomes effective in 2018 or one year after the bottle redemption rate falls below 60 percent, whichever comes first. The redemption rate was 75 percent in 2009, and preliminary data from 2010 show it will probably be slightly lower, said John Andersen, president and chief executive of the Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative, which collects bottles recycled through the program.

In a bid to boost participation if it languishes, the bill would increase the current nickel deposit to a dime if bottle redemption is below 80 percent for two consecutive years. Proponents of the change say a higher financial incentive would encourage more people to redeem their bottles.

Rep. Matt Wingard, R-Wilsonville, said he objected to the fee increase because it had the potential to significantly boost the price of a low-cost product. "I am not going to vote for a fee increase on folks," Wingard said.

A nickel when the program was first created had the buying power of 28 cents today. Redemption has fallen from a peak of nearly 100 percent participation in the 1990s, in part due to the expansion of curbside recycling and consumer frustration with grocery-store redemption centers.

The bill would expand a pilot project that experiments with centralized redemption centers that remove the program from the back rooms of grocery stores and don't require consumers to manually insert each container into a machine.

Oregon was the first state to create a bottle deposit system designed to encourage recycling and reduce litter. Beverage buyers pay a nickel upfront when they purchase soda and other drinks, and they get their deposit back when they recycle the container at a redemption center inside grocery stores and other retail outlets.

The bottle redemption concept gained steam as a way to control litter, but that wasn't the only goal, said Rep. Vicki Berger, R-Salem, whose father championed the bottle bill as a private citizen until it became law.

"It was not about litter management only," Berger said. "It was about resource management in a finite world."

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