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Time to update the bottle bill

The law has proved its worth, but it's overdue for an overhaul

The (Roseburg) News-Review

When speaking of Oregon to people from other states, one thing that often comes up to boast about is the landmark bottle bill. The first in the nation when instituted 35 years ago, it has kept untold millions of tons of reusable glass and aluminum out of landfills.

As memorable as it was, it's overdue for a recycling of its own.

The drinking habits of Oregonians have changed considerably since 1971, and the value of a nickel return has plummeted.

As a result, the 90 percent return rate of recyclable beverage containers in the law's heyday has dropped to the low 80s. And, the popularity of beverages in containers without deposits, especially bottled water, has skyrocketed. That means these containers are often trashed or tossed aside, while the more valuable containers are scooped up to return.

A small movement has started to rejuvenate the state's bottle bill, and it deserves some attention. Ideas being floated include raising the deposits and expanding the law to include bottles and cans containing water, juices and teas. Backers suggest excluding dairy products and paper containers. — There's no question the bottle bill works.

States without it report that instead of close to 80 percent of bottles and cans being recycled, that same percentage is trashed in dumps. That pushes up landfill costs to the public.

Get ready for the opposition. Beverage and grocer associations have been successful in crushing earlier measures to update the law.

Stores, understandably, don't like dealing with the messy hassle of taking in the returned cans and bottles. Expanding the law could make that even more challenging.

Consumers who don't want to bother with recycling don't want to see the price on their favorite beverage go up.

Perhaps an updated law could cover some of the concern of retailers, covering some of their costs in recycling. That law should also require that customers have a reasonable way to return containers. Some stores appear to be making it as difficult as possible.

Its flaws aside, Oregon's bottle bill has stood the test of time. Thousands of tons of bottles and cans are returned for reuse, saving raw materials, and also keeping the state's roads, beaches and public areas clear of unsightly trash.

It's time to put the shine back on Oregon's landmark bill.