Oregon is one of the only states that has a bottle return bill that doesn’t allow unredeemed deposits to be collected as state revenue. Should Oregon change the law and claim the money?
A new audit from the Oregon Secretary of State recommends policymakers look at the idea. The money is nothing to sniff at. Between 1971 and 2020 it might have amounted to $500 million, according to the audit. Last year there were about $30.6 million in unredeemed deposits. The audit suggests the state could collect it for itself, arguing it is like other unclaimed property. Then it could take the money and use it for conservation programs that are struggling with funding. Spending the money that way would be in line with the bottle bill’s purpose.
But there would be a cost. Beverage distributors get the money now and it is also used to help pay to run the state’s bottle recycling centers. Jules Bailey, chief stewardship officer for the recycling co-op, told The Bulletin’s Michael Kohn the recycling cooperative had a $44 million budget in 2019. A portion of that, $18.2 million, was funded through unredeemed deposits in Oregon. Co-op members had to make up the other $26 million.
If members don’t get the unredeemed bottle revenue, it would undermine their ability to support the recycling centers. They would likely raise prices to consumers.
The audit also points out another option. Oregon could increase redemption rates by increasing again the value of a bottle return or adding other beverages to the bottle return program.
Legislators may well take up these ideas in the 2021 session. What should they do? Write us a letter to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us what you think.