SALEM, ORE. - Oregon voters will decide in November whether to expand the state's bottle bill to include single-serving, noncarbonated drink bottles and water bottles as large as 2 liters. Supporters marked the 25th anniversary of Oregon's bottle bill by turning in more than 105,000 initiative petition signatures to the state attorney general for verification. Such bills need 76,261 valid signatures to get on Oregon's ballot.
With the bill's spot on the ballot nearly assured, supporters and opponents are preparing for a campaign that could have national ramifications.
The Oregon State Public Research Interest Group, the measure's sponsor, is leading supporters' efforts. The group organizing against the bill encompasses a range of state and national businesses, including grocery retailers and beverage producers and distributors.
While Oregon is not a large market, it is an important one, said Dan Colegrove, manager of state affairs for the Grocery Manufacturers of America.
``It can be a bellwether state,'' he said.
Chris Taylor, campaign manager for the public research group, agreed.
``Oregon was the birthplace of the bottle bill, so there's a lot of symbolism here nationally,'' Taylor said.
Beyond this point, the sides agree on little. Proponents say the measure would reduce confusion, while opponents say it would increase confusion.
The measure's language is too vague about what can and cannot be returned for a deposit, Colegrove said. It also does not account for the extra collection.
``Someone's going to have to organize the additional pickups,'' he said. ``Nothing hints at how that's supposed to happen.''
It has been 10 years since a state has added a bottle bill, Colegrove said, and of the 10 states with bottle bills, only one - Maine - has expanded one.
``Based on the Maine experience, the costs of expansion are high,'' he said. ``The reason only one state has expanded is the expansions of curbside'' collection.
Curbside collection now captures as much as 28 percent of these containers, supporters said, but deposit containers are returned at a 93 percent rate.
Reducing litter was an original intent of the bottle bill, Taylor said. Nondeposit containers make up about 15 percent of the litter collected in Oregon.
Popular beverages such as Snapple and Gatorade use containers similar to bottles and cans collected under the existing bottle bill, Taylor said.
These containers are not returnable now only because they contained noncarbonated drinks, which were uncommon when the existing bottle bill was passed.
``The bottle bill expansion will include these,'' said Taylor. ``It will do what the original bottle bill was meant to do.''
The opposition group is using polling and focus groups to research the issue, Colegrove said. It has hired Winner/Wagner & Mandabach Campaigns from Los Angeles to run its campaign.
Colegrove said he expects the public campaign to heat up soon after Labor Day, with efforts focusing on voter education.
Bill supporters are working on expanding their network.
``We're going to point out who the opposition is,'' Taylor said. ``They're not Oregonians, and they're not for recycling.''