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Following the nickel trail

The state has mandated an area recycling center for returning cans, glass and plastic containers with a deposit. It is a good facility, but the revised procedure now requires a special trip instead of using the retail stores that sold the containers. What organization gets to keep the deposit from the customer? What organization is responsible for funding the container returns? Who pays the operating costs in the process?

— G. Anderson, Medford

First of all, Anderson, Oregon’s Bottle Bill doesn't mandate the new Bottle Drop Redemption Centers, but it was amended to allow for them.

The redemption centers are located only in areas where there is a high concentration of retailers with a high volume of bottle returns, enough to warrant having the separate facility.

As to who gets to keep the 5-cent deposit, the answer is nobody, unless the can is not redeemed, in which case  the money is used to offset the costs of the recycling process.

The nickel is passed from agency to agency in what Cherilyn Bertges, spokeswoman and outreach manager for the Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative, calls the “nickel trail.” Pay attention, it’s complicated.

First, retailers pay the bottle deposit when purchasing inventory from distributors, who forward the deposit to the OBRC. Then, customers reimburse the retailer when they buy the beverage and pay the deposit. The customer is reimbursed when he or she redeems the bottle and cashes in the refund voucher at the retailer or a redemption center. Later, OBRC reimburses the retailer for the redeemed bottles which it takes away to be processed at one of the five recycling plants in Oregon. 

The cost of running the redemption center is split between distributors and the participating retailers. The centers don't necessarily save anyone money, but they do streamline and equalize the recycling process, Bertges said.

“For instance, before, someone could buy soda from Safeway, WinCo, Albertsons and Fred Meyer but return all their cans to Fred Meyer, so Fred Meyer then had to deal with all the material, which wears out their machines faster and requires more customer service associates to assist people,” Bertges explained.

But now, all participating retailers pitch in to cover the cost of the redemption center, and those selling a higher volume of beverages pay a little more than the rest.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.