On environmental stewardship, Oregon leads the way with Bottle Bill.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Oregon’s iconic Bottle Bill! In 1971, in response to litter plaguing Oregon’s landscapes, the Oregon legislature passed and Governor Tom McCall subsequently signed into law the “Oregon Beverage Container Act”. This bill led the nation in environmental stewardship by requiring stores that sell beverages in single-use containers (e.g. beer and soda) to redeem those containers for 5 cents per container.
Prior to its enactment, Oregonians saw the raw impacts of single-use containers being discarded along Oregon’s beaches, rivers and roadsides across the state.
This groundbreaking legislation responded to the growing eyesore of litter and enshrined Oregon’s pioneering and innovative public policy approach to preserve the Beaver state’s natural splendor. Protecting and preserving Oregon’s natural beauty is an environmental value that Oregonians are proud of and has served to attract many people to relocate to Oregon to enjoy all the northwest has to offer.
As Oregon’s population has continued to grow, the Bottle Bill has evolved with it to keep pace with innovation in the beverage industry.
Whether it be the expansion of the program to cover more types of beverages (e.g. water bottles) or the advent of Oregon Recycling and Beverage Cooperative (OBRC) bottle drop locations and green bag program, the Bottle Bill program has continued to improve and provide Oregonians with options to recycle while diverting reusable materials from landfills.
A major change in the bottle bill took place in 2017, when the refund value increased to ten cents per container, triggered because redemption rates had dropped below 80% which is the considered acceptable return rate by the Oregon legislature.
The refund value increase provision was placed into the bill so that Oregonians would have an adequate incentive to ensure that containers were going into the recycling stream and staying out of the landfills.
These modifications have been successful due to the partnership that exists to support the Bottle Bill Program. Specifically, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) works directly with OBRC, grocers, and other retailers to ensure that customers can redeem their containers.
OBRC has continued to expand its footprint across the state to provide customers with more options to make returns. Currently, OBRC has 25 full-service redemption centers, BottleDrop Express stations, and dealer redemption centers where consumers can drop off bags of redeemable containers; funds are credited directly to a consumer’s OBRC account, which they can withdraw in cash or apply the funds as a credit at participating grocery stores.
Recently, OBRC announced further expansion, with the construction of a new location in Coos Bay to open in 2022 increasing consolidated redemption service on Oregon’s southern coast.
On Earth Day 2021, the Oregon Historical Society celebrated the Bottle Bill’s 50th anniversary by hosting a panel discussion to discuss the evolution of the bottle bill and its current iteration. Panelists included: Vickie Berger, a former State Representative whose late father, Richard Chambers, is often recognized as the “true father” of the Bottle Bill; Jules Bailey chief stewardship officer, OBRC; Brent Walth, author of Gov. Tom McCall’s biography “Fire at Eden’s Gate”; and Becky Voelkel, Bottle Bill program manager OLCC. The panel discussed the progressive bi-partisan work that brought the bill to fruition and the innovations of the bottle bill over the past half-century. You can watch the discussion here!
As summer approaches and Oregonians venture outside to enjoy Oregon’s natural beauty, it should be remembered that fifty years ago Oregon committed to fixing a problem that impacted all Oregonians: litter.
Oregonians, whether they be outdoor enthusiasts or just admirers of nature, should be proud of our state’s commitment to a legacy of environmental stewardship.