Oregon bottle recycling could return to grocery stores; Cooperative wants to expand BottleDrop Express


With Oregon’s bottle and can deposit at 10 cents, the BottleDrop redemption center in Bend is a busy place.

“There have been times I’ve had to come back later,” Bend resident Theresa Skarsten said Wednesday morning. Sometimes the parking lot is full, and other times the hatch where she drops her green bag full of cans and bottles is overloaded, she said. “I honestly wish there were at least one more drop in town.”

The solution, according to the cooperative that runs BottleDrop redemption centers, will sound familiar to anyone who lived here before 2010: recycling at grocery stores.

The Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative wants to add 20 of its BottleDrop Express locations — which are in grocery stores — around the state this year. The only one in Central Oregon now is at Ray’s Food Place in Sisters.

“We think there’s a real opportunity for consumers to get more access to bottle return, and cleaner, easier access,” spokesman Joel Schoening said. “And for us to grow the BottleDrop program.”

The Express locations revolve around BottleDrop’s green bag program. Users with a BottleDrop account pay $2 for a roll of 10 green bags and special labels, plus 35 cents per bag for processing. Users drop off labeled bags of recyclables, then their accounts are credited with the redeemed deposits within five days.

“People love it,” Schoening said. “We’re signing up over 200 accounts a day. We think that’s the future of bottle return in Oregon.”

The co-op, which is made up of beverage distributors, has considered adding a second full-fledged redemption center in Bend, Schoening said. Partly because of the price of real estate, he said, “It’s very challenging to locate a redemption center.”

Earlier this month, BottleDrop asked the public to avoid its facilities in Redmond and Bend because of equipment failure. A power surge damaged equipment in Redmond, requiring the staff to hand count containers and causing delays that sent even more people to the Bend facility at 755 NE Second St.

Long lines and breakdowns are common at the Bend facility, said Nell Conte, a Bend resident who collects bottles and cans to buy holiday meals for needy families. “There’s probably a couple times a week where half the machines are down,” she said.

Conte said she doesn’t use the green bags because she wants to make sure every penny from donated containers goes to her charity.

There is a way for consumers to redeem more than 10 cents per container. Stores that participate in BottleDrop Plus will exchange a voucher from the redemption center for a Plus voucher, which is worth 20% more in store credit.

Oregon’s bottle redemption rate soared after the state doubled the deposit to 10 cents in 2017. The volume of recycled containers rose 30% to about 1.7 billion in 2018, according to the co-op’s 2018 annual report. The statewide redemption rate went from 65% in 2016 to 85%, Schoening said.

The co-op keeps the deposit on any containers that consumers don’t redeem. All those dimes added up to $29 million last year. The rest of the co-op’s budget was covered by cash contributions from distributors and grocers, Schoening said.

BottleDrop redemption centers were created in 2009 so grocery stores wouldn’t have to manage the process themselves. Any grocery store within a 2-mile radius of the redemption center does not have to take back bottles and cans. Those outside the “convenience zone” have to accept as many as 24 per person per day.

But grocers are interested in hosting Express locations because they generate foot traffic, he said. The co-op sponsored Senate Bill 93 to create “dealer redemption centers,” which would limit the number of containers the store has to accept.

— Reporter: 541-617-7860, kmclaughlin@bendbulletin.com


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