A beefed up bottle bill is closer to law

SALEM — At least nine U.S. states and more than a dozen foreign countries have imitated Oregon's bottle deposit system credited with significantly boosting recycling — and some of them made it better. Now Oregon's trying to catch back up and retain its image as a leader in environmental programs.

Taking cues from successful improvements in other states, the Oregon Senate voted Wednesday to modernize a 40-year-old recycling program. Consumers pay an extra nickel when they buy soft drinks and other beverages, and they get their deposit back if they return the empty container to a grocery store.

But the system, which once collected nearly every eligible bottle, has recently languished to about 75 percent.

Vagaries of the law 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 created in 1971.

"As the bottle bill turns 40, it is showing signs of age," said Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton.

The Senate's approval on a 19-11 vote sends the measure to Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber.

The proposed changes would make more beverage containers subject to a deposit and would experiment with overhauling the way containers are collected. It also would double the deposit from a nickel to a dime if redemption rates stay below 80 percent for at least two-consecutive years. Proponents say a higher financial incentive would encourage more people to redeem their bottles. California, Maine, Michigan and Vermont all charge 10 cents or more on at least some beverage containers.

Majority Democrats rejected a Republican attempt to strip the bill of the provision that would potentially hike the deposit. Some Republicans said they supported most provisions in the bill but could not vote for a bill that would potentially increase costs for consumers.

"If we need the extra nickel in the future we can add it," said Sen. Alan Olsen, R-Canby.

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 because of 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 to replace the current system: a sometimes dirty, sticky and time-consuming process of inserting cans one-by-one into machines in the back rooms or parking lots of grocery stores. Centralized redemption would speed and automate much of the process.

Oregon was the first state to create a bottle deposit system designed to encourage recycling and reduce litter. The concept has been replicated in at least nine U.S. states, 12 Canadian provinces and 15 countries including Australia, Germany and Switzerland, according to the Container Recycling Institute, a California-based research group.

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