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Friday, October 14, 2011

Empty promises

We love Costco, but when it comes to dealing with returned deposit bottles and cans, they're not much better than the local retailers -- which is to say, terrible. Out at the Costco by the airport, they have a grand total of one machine that takes glass and one that takes plastic. Given the massive quantities of beverage containers going out the door of that warehouse, for them to have that few return processing machines is obscene. There really ought to be a law requiring high-volume sellers to have high-volume deposit return processing capabilities.

At least they keep the area around the infernal machines relatively scum-free, which is more than one can say for Safeway or Fred Meyer. And Costco has enough people running around that you don't have to wait a half hour for a surly teenager to unjam them. If the machines break down too badly, you can usually sweet-talk somebody inside Costco to pay you for your bottles without waiting for the contraptions outside to be fixed. The people behind the desk won't touch the empties, but they'll usually take your word for how many are in your cart.

Anyway, as we stood there the other day, wasting time waiting for our turn to play the absurd game with the machines, we were thinking, should we really be bothered? Why don't we do what so many Portlanders do -- just leave them out with the garbage, and let scavengers take them away? Well, because at our house it comes to $100 a year or more. We're not going to give $100 a year away to street people that we don't even know. We work too hard for that money.

Our latest bottle return encounter, which featured all sorts of mishaps with the machines, reminded us that a revision of Oregon bottle deposit law was passed over the summer, and that we're overdue to have a look at what the changes mean. As it turns out, despite a lot of hoopla, not much will change for quite a while.

Under the new law, all manner of beverage containers that aren't subject to deposit now, will be added to the ordeal. But in all likelihood that won't happen until 2018. And the deposit per container may go up from a nickel to a dime -- but not until 2017 at the earliest, and maybe never.

When politicians tell you what the law is going to be six or seven years from now, you might want to break out a big old grain of salt.

Not much discussed is another feature of the law -- that at some point, you won't be able to bring back more than 24 containers a day to a retailer. That's down considerably from the 144-container limit in place now. So will you be schlepping them around with you every time you go to the store? Supposedly that problem won't arise, because there are going to be mega-redemption centers set up, like two that are currently going in Oregon City and Wood Village. But the new law doesn't require the centers. It merely "encourages" them. Swell.

Is this going to work? Ask the "green" people in the state legislature. Like Jeffer-Sam Smith. This is their crowning achievement.

Bottom line: It's the same old slimy mess, and likely to remain so for a long time. So Costco, in the meantime, do us a favor. How about a few more machines, at least?

Comments (22)

2,000 bottles a year of what, if I may be so bold as to inquire. Surely it is not water from Costco.

So, how does this work. If you buy at Costco and return to Fred's, what happens to the nickel Costco extracted from you?

Encourage your local grocery store to do what ours does: they have big boxes with different local public schools names on each box and you can donate to the school of your choice. This was started some years back and so far the store has gathered over $115,000 for the various schools in our city. They also take the bottles and give you your money if that's what you prefer.

2,000 bottles a year of what, if I may be so bold as to inquire. Surely it is not water from Costco.

Most of it is, in fact, bottled water. From Costco. Not that it is any of your business.

If you buy at Costco and return to Fred's, what happens to the nickel Costco extracted from you?

As I understand it, there's nothing in this but expense for Fred Meyer or Costco. Any profit made from unreturned deposit containers is apparently pocketed by beer and wine distributors.

What Kathe said. We just stick ours in the bin at New Seasons and they give the $ to the Portland Schools Foundation. If you have a New Seasons nearby you could do that even if you didn't shop there.

Up in BC Canada where we spend the majority of our summer time, the BC govt charges a fee on nearly every type of bottle including wine bottles. Where we are in the Gulf Islands, garbage disposal is very difficult and very expensive. The local recycle center run by volunteers accepts all the bottles and cans because they get to keep the money from the returns. We find it convenient and we feel good about our returns too. When you have to lug every thing around by boat one stop to get rid of the lot makes sense.
I have purchased a small device that carbonates the water. It seems to work pretty well and hopefully we won't be hauling around as many bottles and cans from now on.

I had an idea years ago - anyone that is competent enough to dig in trash cans and push shopping carts is able enough to work for the city picking up the recyclables from your house.

From the return fees they give you a percentage discount, and them a cut for the work.

Eliminate the underground economy and store mess at the same time.

Or ... just get rid of the Bottle Bill and put those bottles and cans in your recycling bin. No more filth at the store and no more unrecouped expense for the retailer.

Dear Molly,
If we get rid of the bottle bill as you suggest, the trash would be everywhere. I have lived places where there is no incentive to pickup cans and bottles. The trash lines the sides of the roads. clutters up the park lands and just about every other empty space.

I share your frustration Jack, and I did finally give up. I probably have about 150 bucks a year in returns that I never collect on.

My local thriftway has bins that I can drop them into, and the money supposedly goes to the school here in my neighborhood. I can stuff a big bag into the bin, and I'm done is seconds.

If I see someone on the way to the store who looks like they may need a few bucks more than the school, I will hand them off before I get them to the bin.

"the trash would be everywhere" without the bottle bill? How could anyone blame trash on the lack of incentives? Beer can redemption was my kids' allowance. Now I would be happy to keep the Meth heads from breaking in and stealing my sin taxes.

oh yea nevermind, what Kathe said

"school of your choice"

But, but it's for the children!!!!!

"Mega-redemption centers"? Have you been to one?

I have, because I have to. I shop at the Freddy's in Oregon City which is one of the retailers whose returns were shunted to the new BottleDrop.

The redemption center is too small, the parking is inadequate and dangerous (blind corner) and the other tenants of that small business center are livid over the additional traffic and noise - I'm sure they weren't anticipating this kind of use when they signed their leases.

Better still...if you use the barcoded bags and drop off one that is two bottles too heavy, your account is flagged so that the next time you come in for more bags and labels (their bags leak like sieves, BTW) there's a flag on your account for the attendant to give you a lecture before SELLING you more bags. And it's a coin flip as to whether the redemption kiosk at Freddy's will even be working when you go to cash out on your next grocery trip.

The concept has promise but the current execution sucks.

The Bottle Drop in Wood Village is awesome. You can drop off 2 full bags a day if you want, 24 hours a day. And they provide the bags. No hobos, no line, no mess. The money stays in your account until you ask them to cut a check. Who knew Wood Village is so much more 'progressive' than Portlandia?

The beverage manufacturers in Oregon got together many years ago and started a company called Container Recovery on NW Yeon. Container Recovery is the only company that makes and sells all the can return machines to the retailers in Oregon. Each machine has a computer in it that runs a simple bar code recognition software to accept or reject the container based on the bar code. When the machine gets full, it sends a code back to Container Recovery to schedule a truck to go empty out the machine. Same if it needs repair or other service. The retailers get paid by the weight recovered, and not by quantity. Container Recovery makes more money when less containers are returned because it is funded by all the deposits collected by those same bottlers. Container Recovery's profit goes back to the bottlers. Therefore, it is the Bottling companies' interest that bottle deposit goes up, but returns go down. Container Recovery was one of my clients for years until I went back to law school.

Bottle returns do nothing but attract vagrants and undesirables to the premises of a store.

Costco is giving a huge hint by having only two bottle return machines. The hint is unless you have a card and are buying stuff, then you are not welcome here. In less polite terms, if you are not a card carrying Costco member, then get the hell out because your smelly ass is disturbing our customers.

My family and I? We dare not use the bottle return machines at a Costco in Fresno. We fear getting robbed our beat up for being White by some ex-Black Panther who is now homeless, still harbors a deep hatred for blue-eyed devils, and is addicted to meth. We just put them in the blue bin.

One other issue with Costco: They ask to see your membership card before they will issue the refund. This may not be legal, and it certainly isn't within the spirit of the new 2009 law stating that larger stores (5,000 sf is the threshold, which Costco obviously qualifies) accept any brand or size container that they have sold a similar kind of beverage (water, beer or soft drink) marked with the Oregon 5-cent refund value, even if the containers are different sizes or brands than the store sells.

Combining their limited machine capacity with this policy, they have essentially externalized a portion of the return system costs upon Safeway, Fred Meyer, Albertsons, etc., and also permenently excluded a segment of the population that doesn't hold a Costco membership.

I noticed a family on my block that is always schlepping cans down the street to the Winco. I hate dealing with those can machines, so I stopped them one day and told them I will leave bags of cans by my back gate for them. Works for both of us.

"If we get rid of the bottle bill as you suggest, the trash would be everywhere. I have lived places where there is no incentive to pickup cans and bottles. The trash lines the sides of the roads. clutters up the park lands and just about every other empty space."

Oh God, yes just look at Vancouver they are just covered in old cans and bottles. Sometimes when I go there, I find it hard to walk for all the cans and bottles rolling down the sidewalk at you.

Many churches and schools use aluminum can collection as a fund-raising vehicle, and that's where all of our cans go. I just leave the bottles in the plastic bin for the scavengers to collect. It may come to $100+ per year worth of bottle deposits, but I figure they need the money a whole lot worse than I do, if they are spending their time pushing a shopping cart around the neighborhood.

What exactly is the truth about our bottle bill and trash supposedly everywhere where there is no bottle bill?

If it isn't true doesn't that matter?

If we have no absolute corresponding benefit to the enormity of work and energy used to operate our bottle and can return system is it merely a phony or feeling thing?

Is there really a noticable difference between OR and WA?

Don't know about Oregon City, but the Wood Village works great. Get the bags, fillem up, drop them off (no counting), get the cash. Wish Walmart would have opted in. Kudos to Fred Meyer and Safeway.

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