The Bottle Bill is one of Oregon’s great 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.
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 increased deposits have made them a more effective fundraising mechanism for nonprofits.
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.