Oregon’s U.S. senators, Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, are hoping to replicate the state’s recycling success on the national level, having introduced a pair of bills that take aim at the prevalence of plastics in American waste. They put forward a national version of Oregon’s Bottle Bill Feb. 12, which would set up a collection and reimbursement system for plastic bottles, alongside a bill that would establish minimum recycled content requirements for some plastic products. Both are designed to increase the frequency and reliability of recycling programs and behaviors around the country. “We’re trying to show the rest of the country an opportunity to take the Oregon Way nationwide,” Wyden said.
Since the early 1970s, Oregon law has required some glass, plastic and metal cans and bottles sold in the state be returnable with a minimum refund value, now 10 cents. In 2018, Oregon recycled 90% of items covered by the Oregon Bottle Bill, according to the Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative.
The law works like this: a distributor charges a 10-cent deposit on delivery of items covered by the bill; the store then charges a 10-cent deposit when it sells those items; a customer gets 10 cents from the store or a BottleDrop redemption center when returning the container; the distributor then pays 10 cents per container to the store or redemption center when empty containers are returned to them.
“This pretty much mirrors our law,” Wyden said. “I’m sure there will be lobbies, as is always the case and was the case in the ’70s, that Western civilization is going to end, we’ll lose jobs, it’ll be so inconvenient and the like. But we haven’t seen it.”
Just like the local law, Merkley and Wyden’s Original Recycling Bottle Act of 2020 is designed to spur recycling in the private sector. At its most basic level, their proposal for a national program would have distributors, retailers and customers follow the same system.
Under the proposed national program, distributors that don’t meet a 75% recovery rate would forfeit to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency the amount of any unredeemed beverage container deposits received by the distributor. The funds then would be used by the EPA for marketing and outreach related to the bottle bill program. The federal government would serve in an oversight capacity.