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Senate backs bottle bill

SALEM &

In 1971, Oregon blazed an environmental trail by becoming the first state to place a nickel deposit on beer and soda pop bottles and cans in a bid to reduce roadside litter. But over the years Oregon's law has been overshadowed by other states with broader deposit laws covering more containers.

Oregon is trying to catch up. And on Monday, the state Senate voted 23-7 to add plastic bottles of water and flavored water to Oregon's landmark bottle bill, the first change since it became law 36 years ago.

Environmentalists and recycling advocates had hoped to expand Oregon's bottle deposit law even more to include all the bottles from teas, sports drinks, gourmet coffees and juices now littering Oregon roadsides and which are covered under some of the other states' laws.

Still, proponents of the bill called it a significant expansion of a law that has already resulted in the recycling of billions of containers.

They noted that last year, Oregonians threw away more than 128 million recyclable water bottles that would be covered by the new law, if it passes the House and is signed by the governor, who supports the expansion.

The effort to expand Oregon's bottle law has been helped by the fact that this is the first time in 16 years that Democrats control both houses of the Legislature as well as the governor's office, as a result of last November's election.

Even though Oregon's bottle bill has fallen behind similar laws in other states, the state still has a strong reputation for having an environmental conscience. Supporters of the bill passed by the Senate say it will help fortify that reputation.

"This legislation is a part of Oregon's DNA, and although I am not a native Oregonian, at least I can say I voted for Oregon's bottle bill," said Senate President Peter Courtney.

The measure passed despite opposition from some Republican senators who said grocers shouldn't be forced to accept an expansion that brings more empties into their stores, creating potential health problems caused by unsanitary containers.

"This is a huge public health and safety issue," said state Sen. Larry George of Sherwood, one of seven Republicans who voted against the bill.

The bill sets up a task force to study whether the state should create redemption centers where beverage containers could be taken, and whether the nickel deposit should be increased to a dime to encourage more recycling of containers.

Other states with bottle laws are Vermont, Maine, Michigan, Iowa, Massachusetts, Delaware, New York, California and Hawaii.