BEN CANNON, a Portland representative, held up two cans of Rockstar on the floor of the Oregon Legislature last Wednesday, May 4. One, a carbonated energy drink, was worth a nickel if returned to a recycling center. The other, a coffee concoction, was not carbonated and therefore worthless.
Oregon set a national precedent when it passed the country's first Bottle Bill in 1971. Last week the House passed a major expansion of the recycling-friendly law, sewing up some of its gaping loopholes.
Under the new rules, energy drink and juice bottles (but not milk, wine, or liquor bottles) will become redeemable in 2018. Redemption rates in Oregon have dropped from 90 percent in the '70s to 75 percent (likely because a nickel these days has the worth of a quarter back then), but the new bill would bump deposits up to a dime if rates stay below 80 percent.
The bill also encourages the development of giant recycling centers to centralize the redemption operations found at most supermarkets.
Sure, it's progress, but not until seven years from now.
"It's longer than I would have liked," says Cannon, who admits 2018 "reflects a bit of a compromise." Beverage distributors would have opposed the bill if it kicked in sooner—they keep customers' unredeemed deposits, so they net millions in nickels when redemption rates are low.
But it's not Salem politicians, or beverage companies, who will feel the biggest impact of the new bottle bill—it's the people who make their primary income redeeming bottles and cans. I ran the bill past a few regular collectors turning in their daily haul at the Hollywood Fred Meyer on Monday morning, May 9.
Daily Recycling Income: $20
Hours Spent Collecting: Hilbran hits the streets at the "crease of dawn," usually from about 2-6 am
Bottle Bill Critique: "It's good. I mean, you can just drive across the bridge into Washington and there's bottles and cans all over the road." But the bill should kick in now, not in 2018. "It should have already been done. We were a progressive state once, now look how we lag behind."
Canning as Career: "It is what it is: an honest living."
Daily Recycling Income: $40-60
Hours Spent Collecting: 2-3 hours daily
Collecting Tips: Matthew doesn't have to do a lot of rooting—he sweeps the loading docks of Lloyd District hotels in exchange for their sacks of recyclables.
Bottle Bill Critique: "I think it should go up to 10 cents to give people an incentive to recycle," says Matthew. But the bill's plan to centralize recycling in several large redemption centers will create a hardship for people like him, who haul cans on foot or in shopping carts. As for the timing, 2018 seems fatally far off. "I won't be alive by then," says Matthew. "But I don't think they should kick it in sooner, because it's going to take a long time for people to adjust."
General Heroism: Matthew, a formerly homeless veteran who got into housing thanks to Central City Concern, says he donates much of his can income to the nonprofit and gets by on disability checks.
Daily Recycling Income: $20-40
Hours Spent Collecting: All day
Best Neighborhood for Collectors: Laurelhurst, or "anywhere with rich people."
Bottle Bill Critique: Expanding the number of redeemable bottles would make her very happy. "That'd be awesome. As the cops say, at least I'm out canning, not robbing people." But wine bottles should be covered in the bill, she says. She sees a lot of those, and they're unredeemable.