Stephen Hamway
The Bulletin

During a year clouded by disruption to Oregon’s overseas markets for its recyclables, some good news emerged from the state’s recycling industry last week: Oregonians recycled more bottles, cans and other contains than ever before through the bottle deposit program.

The Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative, which oversees the state’s bottle deposit program, announced that around 90 percent of the containers covered by the program were returned and redeemed in 2018, a jump of around 25 percent over where the figure stood just two years ago.

With the increased rate and a longer list of eligible containers, Oregonians recycled around 2 billion containers last year, the most ever under the program.

Joel Schoening, community relations manager for the cooperative, attributed the uptick primarily to two recent efforts to revamp the state’s bottle redemption program: dramatically expanding the types of containers included in the program and raising the deposit from 5 cents to 10 cents in April 2017.

“That dime did what it was supposed to,” Schoening said.

While year-long totals aren’t available yet for the Bend redemption center, located at 755 NE Second St., the center comfortably surpassed its quarterly totals from 2017 during each of the three 2018 quarters where data was available.

Additionally, the cooperative announced the number of BottleDrop accounts increased by 50 percent last year, with about 300,000 households now enrolled in the program.

In part because of this increase in participation, Schoening said the cooperative is looking at adding more BottleDrop redemption centers across the state, including Prineville. Schoening said other “express” centers could be added in grocery stores in other parts of the region, to keep Central Oregonians from needing to drive all the way to Bend or Redmond.

“What we’re seeing is that people are driving farther to return their bottles than they are to buy them,” Schoening said.

When the Oregon bottle bill passed in 1971, it added a 5-cent deposit to the sale of every bottle and can of beer, soda and similar beverages sold in Oregon, which could be redeemed by returning the bottle.

In 2016, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission announced the deposit would be increased to 10 cents, after redemption rates fell below the levels set by the Legislature. The change occurred in April 2017, and the redemption rate spiked from 59 percent to 82 percent for the rest of the year.

Another major change occurred at the beginning of last year, when the state expanded its list of acceptable containers to include energy drinks, juice, coffee, tea and other beverages. Schoening said the raw totals of redeemed containers predictably spiked after the change, but he said the redemption rate increased despite the volume of new recyclables, a sign that more Oregonians bought into the program.

“Historically, when you add new containers to a bottle state, the redemption rate goes down,” Schoening said.

The growth occurred during an otherwise tough year for recycling in Oregon. China, which had previously been a major destination for recyclables in Oregon and other western states, announced that it would no longer take many of the low-value recyclables that it had been importing. The change forced some cities and counties to make changes to what can and can’t be recycled, while others received permission from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to dispose of material that had once been recyclable.

In December, the state environmental agency released its annual report, that concluded Oregon is unlikely to meet its goal of recovering 52 percent of recyclable material statewide by 2020.

Schoening said much of the BottleDrop program’s success stems from its clean recycling stream. Unlike the blue curbside bins, most of the materials sent to redemption centers are either glass, high-grade plastic or aluminum, which Schoening said makes it easy to ship the materials to domestic markets.

“There’s largely only three types of materials in there, and we can sort them very easily,” he said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7818, shamway@bendbulletin.com

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected. In the original version, the two-year percentage change in the state’s redemption rate for bottles and cans was incorrect.

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