We Oregonians are told that a majority of us support the doubling of the state’s deposit on bottles and cans. Why do we want it? So more of us will be motivated to return the empties, one Salem resident was reported to have said. But what prompted her to say she wants a bigger charge for the purchase of bottles and cans?
The answer for a five cent raise has its origin with the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. The commission tells us that fewer bottle and can purchasers are returning their empties, resulting in a decline of redemption rates. The decline has apparently been underway for some time with return rates as recent as last year and the year before, or 2014 compared with 2013, dropping three percent.
Oregon residents welcomed the Bottle Bill in 1971 and presumably still support it—if the poll that determined this view is valid. It was sold to Oregonians from day one as an anti-litter bill. It appeared to work very well for quite some time as the nickel return on a deposit was worth the effort to return the empty container. Those in favor of an increase from 5 to 10 cents argue that the increase will motivate returns when a nickel doesn’t encourage returns well enough.
Meanwhile, it should be a whole lot easier to return the empty containers as Salem has currently established two BottleDrop redemption centers. These redemption centers are located on south Commercial Street and on Lancaster Drive. Of course grocery stores and supermarkets offer redemption sites where bottles and cans are placed into counting machines that issue a receipt for redemption at each store’s cashier stations.
Back when returning bottles and cans was quick and easy—among the items in one’s shopping cart—the return of bottles and cans could be completed at cashier stations. Now the stores that sell bottles and cans of pop, beer etcetera send their customers to a small, crowded room or outside into the weather. Inside or out, the areas are most commonly pinched in size, sticky-floor dirty, full of shopping carts that are stacked to the top and overflowing with bottles and cans along with those waiting with two to three more heaping shopping carts deep full of bottles and cans.
These conditions totally discourage most people except those who are presumably so cash-strapped they will endure the wait and horrid conditions to realize the receipt slip—after an hour or more wait—for a mere few dollars in reward. If the state is really serious about motivating people who live in the state to return bottles and cans they will have to open and maintain many more BottleDrop redemption centers. For example, there are about 37,000 residents in Keizer without one BottleDrop Redemption Center.
Then there is the problem of those who throw their bottles and cans whenever they finish with them and apparently could care less what becomes of public areas in our cities, towns, forest lands, and beaches. If you hadn’t noticed, there are an abundance of places all over Oregon that have become garbage dumps. If it’s not discarded bottles and cans it is used needles, empty styrofoam containers of all kinds and sizes, sandwich wrappers, used diapers, dog droppings, food waste, cigarette butts, and, among an almost limitless list of others like water (of which some can be returned), wine and whisky bottles from a huge portion of the population that doesn’t give one hoot how bad the place looks, how many children are exposed to danger and how much vermin it all attracts. Those responsible walk away from their garbage after not making the smallest of effort to find a trash container or take their used items home with them.
Oregon was not a litter land just a few years ago. Why it has become one would most likely fill a whole encyclopedia full of reasons. Adding five cents to the refund may help to lower the piles of litter but it will take a major reform in what’s become a throw away society to make anything like a significant difference. Elementary school teachers can talk to their students about picking up after themselves but if their parents set an example by being slobs everywhere, then efforts in schools are probably for little or no results.
Here’s the bottom line: What began as a great idea put into practice by dedicated Oregon leaders more than 40 years ago has been allowed bastardization by grocery stores and supermarkets that want the profit from sales of beverages but are not willing to be responsible citizens, sending those seeking redemption to “snake pits” where they are discouraged from taking their empty bottles back unless they’re economic circumstances are desperate.
Those grocers seeking profit without participation have made a good thing into an ugly thing while the current crop of office-holders in Salem let them get away with what’s become of the Bottle Bill circa 2015, that is, it’s broken. No five cent increase is going to turn a corner on what’s become an abomination. Such reform will happen when grocers behave responsibly and do their share again and most Oregonians once more embrace the mindset that prevailed in practice throughout Oregon in the early 1970s.
(Gene McIntyre’s column appears weekly in the Keizertimes.)