While there are plenty of things that divide Oregonians, there are three pillars that unite us.
We speak, of course, of no sales tax, no self-pumping at gas stations and the Bottle Bill.
They’re so ingrained in our unique Oregonian culture that it seems fundamentally wrong when we’re visiting another state and see that extra line at the bottom of a receipt adding to our purchase total, or pull into a gas station and wait a beat before realizing we’re going to have to climb out and work the machine ourselves. Perhaps the most egregious is when we see friends who don’t know any better toss a soda can into the garbage, or drive down the highways of other states and see aluminum, plastic and glass littered alongside the road.
A sales tax would undoubtedly stabilize this state’s unpredictable economic cycles and give us a good case for lowering the income tax rate. Self-serve gas has proven to be non-apocalyptic in much of rural Oregon. But the Bottle Bill should be enshrined as one of our state’s greatest achievements.
Nine other states have followed in our footsteps since 1971, creating an incentive to recycle one-use containers rather than pitching them in a trash can, gutter or wildlife habitat.
As Jade McDowell reported in this paper last week, about 1.3 billion bottles and cans were returned in 2017. That represents about 80 percent of the containers that were purchased, and a substantial increase from 2016 when the deposit was a nickel. According to the online Bottle Bill Resource Guide, the return rate for non-Bottle Bill states is about 28 percent.
Distributors, who receive the initial deposit and pay it back at the end of the cycle, came out ahead at $25 million in unreturned containers. But the big win is that the incentive of a dime did what it was supposed to and got us back into the habit of returning our cans and bottles.
Overall, Americans are sloppy recyclers. We’re not alone in that trait, but we’re bad at sorting before we drop off and, because of the mess we leave, much of the world’s refuse is no longer accepted at processing centers in China. That’s bad for the world, as material that can be reused is instead piling up in landfills.
Bottles and cans are unique in that they are easily sorted, and a targeted campaign provides a greater return on investment than other materials.
As a bonus, the deposits have also become an effective fundraising mechanism for nonprofits. Last week the Agape House in Hermiston was able to raise thousands of dollars in an afternoon in coordination with the BottleDrop facility as people donated their containers to the cause. We hope to see more of that for area charities.
So whether you return your cans and bottles yourself, donate them to a charity or give them to a neighbor kid looking to make a few bucks, the daily effect of the bottle bill is what you don’t see — litter and waste in our state.