The Oregon Liquor Control Commission will be sending inspectors to stores around the state next week to ensure retailers are complying with a new law that requires bottles of water to be marked to indicate they can be returned for a 5-cent deposit. Bottled water containers were added to the Oregon bottle bill Jan. 1, but according to the OLCC, some retailers are not yet in compliance with the new law.
Retailers said they’re already stocking their shelves with properly marked bottles and that their primary concern about the new law is the anticipated surge in bottles returned to their stores.
Christie Scott, a public affairs specialist for the OLCC, said informal checks by OLCC staff have found many stores selling bottles of water that are not properly marked. The law requires bottles of water for sale to be marked just like soft drinks or beer, and Scott said the OLCC is concerned that people who unknowingly buy an unmarked bottle of water will not get their deposit back when they return it to the store.
Business owners stocking unmarked bottles could be cited with a Class A misdemeanor.
Scott said retailers have had plenty of time and options to comply with the law. Some stores with excess unmarked bottles have traded them in with their distributors for marked bottles, while others have used stickers, stamps or laser printing to mark “OR 5” on their old bottles.
“For a year and a half we’ve been talking with industry leaders, and July 1, we started telling them you can put your OR 5 bottles on the market right now. Start switching out your product, purge your old product,” Scott said. “You’ve got six months to do that, but you’ve got to do it.”
Scott said she hasn’t heard of any cases of retailers charging consumers the 5-cent deposit prior to Jan. 1, and that “the flow of the nickle” could well go the other way, with consumers earning a 5-cent refund for bottles purchased before stores began charging the deposit.
Bringing bottled water into the bottle bill program is expected to significantly increase the amount of plastic recycled, according to April Neff, the manager of corporate relations for the Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative, an organization that handles recyclables for retailers and beverage distributors.
Neff said bottled water and flavored bottled water make up 20 to 25 percent of all canned or bottled beverages sold in Oregon, and the cooperative anticipates a 250 percent increase in the number of plastic bottles it processes once consumers are familiar with the new law.
Dan Floyd, a spokesman for Safeway in Oregon and southwest Washington, described adjusting to the new rules as a “huge undertaking.”
Most Safeways use automated machines for processing their recycling, Floyd said, attracting a large number of people returning bottles and cans they bought elsewhere.
With the changes to the bottle bill adding bottled water and requiring large stores to accept all brands — not just those sold at the store — Floyd expects longer lines for customers bringing back their recycling.
“It’s volume at the machines, it’s a labor issue, but it’s also a space issue, because once they go through those machines, they don’t just disappear,” Floyd said.
Other stores reported different experiences.
Jeff Hays, assistant manager at Bend’s Costco Wholesale Corp., said he hasn’t seen any problems since the new rules went into effect, either at the store’s recycling machines or from customers confused about why they have to pay a deposit.
Brandon Allwardt, who identified himself as the person in charge at Bend’s Fred Meyer, said traffic at the store’s recycling machines appears to be up since Jan. 1. An additional increase could become a problem, he said, as the store’s machines already run at close to capacity, and store staff often have to be called to the recycling area to count bottles and cans by hand.
Allwardt said there have been several customers who were unaware the store would be charging them a deposit on a bottle of water.
“We get a lot of that. A lot of them do get upset. A lot of them are like, ‘What, why am I paying extra?’ And then there’s people from out of the state, and they’re always really surprised when they get charged for a bottle deposit on anything,” Allwardt said.
Additional changes to the bottle bill could be on the way soon.
Gov. Ted Kulongoski has expressed support for expanding and updating the bottle bill in recent years, and Scott said the Legislature may debate implementing a deposit on juice bottles during the next legislative session.