By Neva Knott
Just this last month, I returned home to Portland, Oregon. I went about my shopping and recycling, having forgotten about the Bottle Bill. Then a friend reminded–those bottles are worth a nickel each. Oops; I’d tossed some coin into the bin.
In 1971, Oregon passed the country’s first bottle refund bill, as a way to curb litter. For each bottled or canned beverage sold, the consumer pays a five cent surcharge. When the bottle is returned to the retailer the consumer gets back the nickel. Statistics from the Oregon.gov website state that road-side litter reduced from 40 percent to six percent when the bill went into effect. Currently, the return rate is 70 percent of all returnable bottles sold.
Oregonians know the drill–drink, put the bottles in a separate bin, take them to the store, get cash. Back in the day, returned bottles were counted by a cashier at the grocery–most likely the lowliest new-hire teenager.
Then came the automated return machines. All I have to do is insert each bottle into the machine’s mouth. A scanner reads the label and tallies my count. When I’ve pushed through all the returnables I came with, I push the green button and the machine gives me a receipt. I present it to a cashier and am given my due.
Some folks set bags of cans and bottles on the sidewalk to be gathered by homeless people–it’s a Portland kind of social service.
The whole stashing of cans and bottles until there are enough to take back is a bit messy and smelly, but I think it’s worth the effort. Recently I read a complaint that, since we pay for city recycling, we shouldn’t have to do the bottle return shuffle any longer.
Here’s what the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has to say about the bottle bill:
Oregon’s bottle bill helps ensure materials used to manufacture beverage containers are recycled, thus reducing the energy required to produce the containers and reducing greenhouse gases. In 2009, more than one billion beverage containers were recycled under the bottle bill. Recycling those beverage containers saved three trillion BTUs of energy, equivalent to the amount of energy in 24 million gallons of gasoline. That recycling also reduced greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 200,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalents – equal to the amount of carbon dioxide produced by 40,000 cars. These savings should increase as the bottle bill’s expansion goes into effect. Beverage container litter has also been substantially reduced under the bottle bill, leaving Oregon’s roadsides, parks and public lands much cleaner.
All these benefits for a nickel.
So, today I made my first trek to Whole Foods, bags of bottles in hand. I got two bucks. Sometimes we pay to play and sometimes it’s just the right thing to do.