Medford is about to join communities around the state that have bottle and can redemption centers separate from retail stores where consumers can take the returnable containers. Whether that will be encourage more people to return them isn't clear, but the new center will have some immediate benefits for consumers.
For starters, the existing return systems operated by retail grocery stores are a source of frustration for nearly everyone who uses them. The automated machines are prone to frequent jams, reject containers they should accept and fill up rapidly on busy days, forcing customers to wait for an attendant to appear and fix the problem.
The machines also are a headache for retailers, who must use paid employees to service the machines along with other duties.
Oregon led the country in adopting a deposit system in 1971 for beverage containers as a way to reduce littering. After peaking at 90 percent in the early years, the return rate has declined to 72 percent, and not all containers are subject to the deposit law. The 2013 Legislature made changes to the law in an attempt to increase the return rate, including authorizing redemption centers.
The Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative, owned by beverage retailers and distributors, has primary responsibility for the redemption system. Eight centers called BottleDrop Redemption Centers are now operating, and Medford's will be the tenth.
The centers offer several advantages. For retailers, those within a 1.5-mile radius will be allowed to stop accepting returns, and those between 1.5 miles and 3 miles of the center will limit returns to 24 containers per day per person.
For the customer, the new centers offer new machines that feed containers onto a conveyor rather than compressing them on the spot, eliminating the jamming problem that plagues older machines. Customers may also opt for a hand-count of up to 50 containers, or avoid on-site counting altogether by buying special bottle-drop bags, filling them and dropping them off 24 hours a day. Center staff will count them, and the deposits will appear in the customer's BottleDrop account within 48 hours, redeemable at participating retailers or at the redemption center for cash.
All that sounds great. One drawback is the location of the center — presently proposed for a warehouse property on Stowe Avenue, off Rossanley Drive. That's not the most convenient location for most folks, who now return containers at their local grocery store.
The drop-and-go convenience could make up for that, or it could prompt some people to simply forgo the deposit and leave their containers out for curbside recycling, or worse, dump containers in the garbage.
Other centers around the state have proved "wildly popular," according to officials of the cooperative. Whether that translates into an increased redemption rate remains to be seen, but there will be consequences if it doesn't. If the current rate of 72 percent doesn't hit 80 percent starting in 2017, the deposit goes up to a dime.