SALEM, Ore. (AP) — At least nine U.S. states and more than a dozen 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 HB 3145 to Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber. Republicans Jason Atkinson of Central Point, Frank Morse of Albany and Bruce Starr of Hillsboro joined all Democrats in advancing the legislation.
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, and it would push retailers to ensure the deposit system is run efficiently because they'll want to avoid the hike.
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 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 to partially 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. Most other states with deposit systems incorporate redemption centers in their collection process.
Oregon already has two centralized redemption centers in Portland suburbs. They allow consumers to manually count their cans at an automated system as they would in a grocery store, allow staff to hand count them or drop them off in pre-marked bags and get the money later.
Rep. Ben Cannon, a Portland Democrat and proponent of the bill, said he expects redemption centers to grow and handle more containers but not to altogether eliminate grocery stores.
"Oregon was the pioneer in this," Cannon said. "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and Oregon has been well-imitated."
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.