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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

For bottle return mess, a new idea

Some big grocery stores out in Gresham are proposing to shift their deposit bottle return operations away from their store locations and over to a centralized redemption center. The retail chains in Oregon have performed miserably in this arena over the last two decades, getting worse every year. No wonder -- there's nothing in it for them, while the politically powerful beer distributors apparently make out like bandits on the current system.

Critics are understandably looking at the new proposal with a high degree of skepticism. One of the complaints is that a redemption center would require customers to make an additional stop beyond their grocery shopping stop, and that will discourage recycling.

I don't know about that. If given the opportunity to drive to a reasonably clean, well functioning redemption center with two halfway intelligent workers on hand, I'd gladly take it. That would be a vast improvement over the current situation at the bigger grocery stores in our neighborhood. That is, filthy, slow, ever-malfunctioning return processing machines, usually with no one around to service them, and an endless wait for some sullen, clueless teenager to come around and get them going when they stop, which nowadays is every time you show up.

The Gresham experiment is worth trying.

Comments (45)

I've found that the best place to return bottles/cans is Cost-Co. You just take them to Customer Service, tell them how many you've got, and they hand over the cash. And thanks to the revised Bottle Bill, they have to accept all your returnables, not just brands sold by Cost-Co.

I think it just depends on the store.
I use the Albertson's in Cedar Mill. Their machines are outside, clean, and hardly ever broken down when I go there. And what the machines dont take, they always gladly count by hand.

(The Beaverton Winco is another story...its nasty there.)

My one gripe I would have with the return system is the limit of 144 cans/bottles though. I usually only go every few months, so I have a trunkload of them, especially with the new water bottle addition. If a redemption center removed that limitation it would be worth it.

I don't think it matters whether it's at a store or a separate "redemption center," but I think it needs to be reasonably accessible to the people who collect and redeem a substantial proportion of the bottles and cans in many neighborhoods, and whose primary vehicles are shopping carts.

As a Gresham resident, I hope this works out. A lot will depend on how quickly one can move the cans. If it gets too crowded, it will be just as inconvenient as the stores. The separate trip is not an issue as I shop at times that the machines are crowded and take the cans/bottles early in the morning on a separate trip. Having a couple of attendants will be very welcome and I like the drop off option if they can make that work.

How about this negotiation:

We'll allow the proposal if the deposit is increased to 25¢. The deposit amount hasn't changed in 38 years, and what was a meaningful deposit has become trivial.

Returning bottles and cans is such a big hassle that I just give them to whoever looks like they could use them the most at the bottle return at my local Fred Meyer. They might buy booze with the $, but hopefully they also get some food when they go inside the store to cash in their ticket. Probably not the best solution, but it's better than donating the $ to the distributors by putting the returnables in with the curbside recycling. I'm just too lazy and busy to deal with those nasty machines.

Safeway, and I'll bet other stores, accept returns for donations - usually breast cancer or other foundations. I always figure the money is already out of my pocket anyway, and it's faster to bring in big bags full and make the donation as opposed to waiting for a count or feeding a machine. I would hope that option remains.

We always put the bottles in a conspicuous spot out at the curb with the rest of the trash and recycling. Some scavenger will always come by and take them before the following morning, frequently they are gone within the hour. I figure that they need the money more than I do and it saves me the hassle of returning the bottles to the store, conveniently avoiding the problem.

The Lamb's Thriftway at Garden Home and SW Oleson has a dozen bins set up inside the store. Each carries the name of a local school. Public and private. Dump your empties in one of them and it's a quick contribution. (Haven't looked into claiming returns as charitable donation.)

Back in the day before the machines, where someone would count out the cans and give you a slip of paper, I'd always take them into the store and get the deposit back.

The machines are nasty, and don't work more often than they do, so I just put them next to the recycling supertanker bin that the city gave us, and they go away faster than the recycling truck can get to my house on pick-up day.

One more thing - just seeing that picture at the top of the thread churns my stomach with the smell of stale beer and and nasty mouldering soda reaching it's half-life in the bowels of it, because it hasn't been emptied in some time, and it's 90º outside.


I would prefer not to have anybody rifle through my garbage or recycle bin for any reason, and setting aside and returning bottles and cans is a headache and mess.

So the bottle bill has inspired me to stop buying any product that come in containers that have a deposit. A very slight adjustment. I'm so happy to be retired from this little game.

I hate the return process. I like to take them back with my daughter and give her half the money for helping.

I like the menial labor of it - and then a financial reward. It is a good value to attain.

I hate the fact that a homeless person with a dog - that I saw attack another dog earlier that day - is there, but he is a good coach - and he is there because people give him handouts - not a good value to attain.

The machines do fill up or break down every time I go.

Help! My feet are stuck to the ground in front of the bottle return. I've been here for seven hours.

The bottle return machines are filthy and poorly functioning. The smell alone is bad enought to keep me away. When I can't find a store who will count my bottles for me (and there are not many). I take them up to Safeway, load them in a cart and push them freely into the bottle return area. I usually don't have time to turn around before one of the professional bottle return folks lays claim to my little treasure. Don't know if I am feeding a bad habit or making a charitable contribution or what. I doubt a centralized return location will improve on the social dynamic or level of hygiene.

Nearly 20 years ago when I lived in the SF Bay Area we took as many bags full of cans as we wanted to the recycler, they weighed them and gave us cash. It took 5 minutes and there was no limit. Why can't we just do that? Why do we have to put them into a machine one at a time? The only pain about it was that they had to be pre-crushed. But that's what kids are for!

Dear Arne 11:15 AM, I hope you aren't the homeless magnet in my neighborhood. Your compassion and curbside contributions put all of us at risk, and I have seen territorial "trash right" wars on my street.

Why don't you buy some crack for local kids in your next act of charity.

Don't get me going about the surly teenagers. I used to take all of my cans and bottles over to the Fred Meyer at West Burnside, and I always ended up with the one kid who decided he needed to pick a fight. "Sir, we don't give deposits for malt liquor bottles," when he saw that I picked it up solely so nobody ran over it in the parking lot. (This was always the same dweeb who'd sneer at you at the checkout counter for not getting the most environmentally responsible items in the store, but he'd completely lose his top the moment someone said "I don't care about the deposit on these bottles; I just want to make sure that they get recycled.")

As for fbear's suggestion about raising the deposit, it's been working for Michigan for close to 35 years. Make it expensive enough that people want to bring back cans and bottles, and nobody will just toss them away. In the early Seventies, whole stretches of Lakes Michigan and Superior were unfit for swimming because of the amount of broken glass just offshore (I'm missing a plug off the side of my left big toe from one such encounter when I was three), and now the beaches are clean of cans and bottles for the most part.

Anybody who thinks that the homeless and bottle-seekers won't rifle through their recycling bins and trash if they don't leave their bottles out is living in a dream world.

In our neighborhood, these folks check out every bin and can so it makes 0 difference in their routine or behavior if you do or don't make cans and bottles available.

It's just not cost-effective or a good use of my time (don't own a car and am far from a major store) to redeem bottles for the paltry deposit amount. And I'm far from a rich person! I also put my clean bottles and cans out in a clean grocery bag next to our apartment recycling bins and they are promptly claimed and taken away by someone who needs the money more than I do. I've met the major recycler in our neighborhood and he's a decent guy. His only complaint is that he can't redeem wine bottles. On recycling day the bins on toney NW Thurman are overflowing with them and, once empty, are worthless.

I'm not sure what the problem is. You've already paid the deposit when you made the purchase. If you don't want to deal with the hassle of a deposit return, toss the can or bottle into your recycle bin. It all winds up in the same place anyway. The bottle bill has been extremely effective in reducing litter, as it was intended to do.

Let's not forget about the nice yellowjackets that go along with the heat, stench, and stickiness!

Jack, that's a delightful header (flag?) at the top of the page today. Details? Get the effect by way of PhotoShop? A web app perhaps? Very nice.

The header is a photo taken with an iPhone last week, dressed up to look like a painting by means of a Photoshop filter.

As for leaving the bottles out for the street rovers, I don't give money to panhandlers, and I don't have $50 to $100 a year after tax to leave just lying around (or throw in the recycling).

The system is quite efficient in taking my nickels for the cause. It needs to be almost as efficient in giving them back.

Doesn't anyone else recall the Czech film "Empties," the very successful offering from the director of "Kolya?" It screened locally at PIFF two seasons ago. There is more to returnable bottles than five cents apiece (ten in MI -- don't even think about it: "Seinfeld" went there more than a decade ago):

I'm trying to figure out where you took that picture from, for an iPhone camera to get the contrast. Mt. Tabor Park is too distant - even my SLR camera loses detail in the haze.

Wow! Check out this alternative to bottle returns!


Jack, if you drink that much beer, pop or water you'd have a good reason to return the bottles for the deposit. If you've got a family or throw a lot of parties, you probably do. Some of us don't.

I agree that a central redemption center, well-maintained and in working order would make much more sense than the horror show currently going on at local retail stores.

Then you've also got the local quickie marts who often refuse to accept bottles because they claim a) they're not clean enough, b) the top has dog teeth marks, or c) they don't have enough room and tell you that you should give them to that homeless person out on the sidewalk, headed to Freddies. This is the second reason I stopped trying to redeem bottles.

I'm almost hesitant to say this, since it will probably mean a longer wait for me, but both New Seasons and Trader Joes will simply have a friendly employee take your cans for you, count them, and hand you a slip which you can redeem at the checkstand. (Caveat: New Seasons requires that you spend it the same day.) Cost-Co will also do this, but you have to be a member. None of these places have the horrible redemption machines.

And as I mentioned above, thanks to the January revision of the Bottle Bill, stores are required to accept ALL bottles with a redemption value. No longer can Trader Joe's refuse to take Kroger brand bottles, etc.

I live in Gresham and shop at the Winco and Fred Meyer that want to put this recycling center into operation. Frankly, this will NOT be a convenience at all for us. We usually shop long after work and if this place closes at 7:00 P.M.; it won't be open when we need it. It will also require yet another trip simply to recycle cans and bottles; and I'll bet it will be staffed by some low IQ minimum wage slug who is beyond slow.

I'm trying to figure out where you took that picture from, for an iPhone camera to get the contrast. Mt. Tabor Park is too distant - even my SLR camera loses detail in the haze.

It's taken from the eco-roof of the Multnomah County Building at Hawthorne and Grand.

The modern service of curbside recycling has made bottle bills obsolete. Wouldn't it be 'greener' if instead of traveling away from the home one simply recycles the bottles at their curb? Most households I know of recycle anyways, and if they didn't they wouldn't have room in their small trash containers (though that's not the reason they recycle).

fbear, what would raising the deposit to $.25 do? It would discourage consumer purchases, which would decrease revenues for those evil businesses, which would cause them to eliminate jobs. Your type of thinking is exactly why we have such a high unemployment rate in this state.

I think we need to go back and review the history of this once necessary policy, since we have better options now than the ones that were available back then.

Don't even try to recycle at Tualatin Fred Meyer. They put the skanky machines half a mile from the store, by the road. the damn things break down more than a '79 Pugeot, and no one in the store considers it urgent whatsoever when you push the service button. If you wait 15 minutes you get some surly kid leisurely strolling out, using the opportunity to sneak a cigarette, then he disappears behind the equipment for a minute. He'll shake the bin so it will accept about 12 more cans before breaking down again...

Tossing them in your recycling bin a) makes it likely that folks will be rifling through your stuff, including tossed out envelopes, bills, etc, and b) essentially transfers 5 or 10 cents to beer / soda manufacturers.

I like the charity idea. I'd also use a redemption center quite happily.

Paul G: If we didn't have the deposit neither of those would be a factor in the equation.

The problem with no-deposit containers is that many people are too lazy to even walk them to a garbage can, much less a recyling bin. They throw them all over the place as litter. The deposit creates an army of winos and other needy folks who pick them up and cash them in.

I remember many, many years ago -- probably around 50 -- when the no-deposit-no-return bottle and can were introduced in New Jersey. My dad, who was not the sort of person you would think of as a greenie, was appalled at the thought of all those containers going to the dump and the gutters.

That's what I was looking for, a logical argument :)

One step that comes readily to mind would be to get the beer distributors off the gravy train. Use the unclaimed deposits to fund decent redemption centers -- or to provide incentives for grocers to get their acts together.

+1 on the comments about how leaving bottles out attracts thieves like flies to dog poop.

Those infernal machines are really picky about some brands of fancy lad beer I like that come in bottles, especially Sierra Nevada IPA.

So, I used to leave my bottles in the bin outside for the crackheads, while I saved the cans for myself. I pay the tax (deposit) on them, and the machines take the cans readily enough, so it's not a big deal to get my money back.

The problem was, the can zombies began to climb over my fence into the yard, to get the cans. You couldn't see the barrel of cans from the street...they really went out of their way to break in and steal. Caught 'em red handed and threatened them with certain unpleasantry if I caught them again, but this was no deterrent...most of 'em are way too far gone to even remember who it is they are stealing from, one day to the next.

And it wasn't only my cans they stole. Eventually, my lawnmowers (yes with an "s") began to go up in a cloud of crack smoke.

So these days I take the time to scratch the labels off of each and every bottle before I put them in the recycling tub. It drives the can zombies absolutely crazy. This won't cause them to return my stolen property, of course, but the look on their faces is priceless.

We'll allow the proposal if the deposit is increased to 25¢. The deposit amount hasn't changed in 38 years, and what was a meaningful deposit has become trivial.

IIRC litter reduction was the motivation behind the bottle bill. However trivial, 5 cents is still enough to work fine thataway because I don't see any cans or bottles laying around as litter.

As for curbside recycling, I've tried that and had them refuse to take them. I know not why.

"I don't see any cans or bottles laying around as litter."

Because addicts sell them for their fix. A 25 or 50 cent deposit would solve this problem.

Those infernal machines are really picky about some brands of fancy lad beer I like that come in bottles, especially Sierra Nevada IPA.

Another nifty feature of the new improved Bottle Bill: if the machines won't take your empties, and if your empties have the ORV, you can take them inside, and the store has to give you the refund for them there. Just walk right up to customer service. Best way to get them to fix those machines is to get the employees fed up with people returning cans at customer service.

Dave J, I double dog dare you to try that at the Safeway on MLK and Ainsworth. They will laugh right in your face after you wait for two solid hours for the flunky to count the bottles.

I live outside of Portland and am thankful that our local Palisades Market has the donation bins for our schools. It is so easy just to grab this weeks bag of empties on the way to the store.
Easy for me, keeps the garage from becoming cluttered and provides money for the schools.

Cabbie - my fix for if I hear someone in my backyard at night - the racking of a .12 gauge.

Even if you aren't pointing it at anything but the sky, and don't even chamber a round; that sound says "Get the hell out of here while you still can" like nothing else.

Has anyone thought about how the employees might feel in this situation? I work at a retail store with a bottle room. I'm normally the bottle clerk. Now you'd think I'd have an easy job, but I don't. Many people expect to be serviced immediately, regardless that there's a dozen or so other customers in the bottle return area waiting in line patiently. The machines break down every five minutes like clockwork, and I'm the only one working there all day. Customers are mostly rude and pushy, expecting every single bottle that's returned be counted, regardless whether or not there's no way to tell what manufacturer it comes from (I.E, No label.) Some people are even dumb enough to try putting halfway full containers in the machines, expecting it to take it. If there's dirt in your bottles, we shouldn't have to take it. If it's not in our database we shouldn't have to take it, because the store gets fined for every bottle that comes in out of state or has no deposit. And now, what can you impatient, asinine people expect when you come to a redemption center? I don't get paid enough for this.

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