Recent polls of Oregon voters show strong support for expanding the state's bottle bill beyond beer and soda. But grocers, convenience-shop operators and beverage producers, organized as a powerful coalition, believe they can shift public opinion by Election Day. The Oregonian, a statewide newspaper, and ABC television affiliate KATU found in a survey that 78 percent favor broadening the bottle deposit law to new products and bottle sizes. Some 19 percent oppose the change and 3 percent did not have an opinion. The statewide poll of 601 likely voters was conducted Sept. 16-22.
Earlier, Portland independent television station KPTV found 79 percent favoring the initiative in a poll of 500 people.
The opposition group Oregoni-ans Against Measure 37 is not surprised.
``It was a surface reaction to a simplistic ballot title,'' said Jill Thorne, outreach director. ``We are educating the voters now.''
Twenty-three ballot issues await Oregon voters Nov. 5.
Proponents in the grass-roots Oregon Bottle Bill Campaign succeeded in collecting more than the needed 76,261 valid signatures to place the initiative on the ballot. Oregon passed the first bottle deposit legislation in 1971, a 5-cent deposit on carbonated and malt-based beverage containers.
``An explosive growth in sales of new, noncarbonated drinks creates waste and litter since none are covered by the bottle bill,'' according to Chris Taylor, director of the Oregon Bottle Bill Campaign. ``Last year in Oregon, over 100 million containers were littered or landfilled simply because they had no deposit.''
Opponents take issue with the statistic.
Initiative supporters include the nonprofit Oregon State Public Research Group, the Oregon League of Women Voters, conservation and environmental interests, the state's governor, secretary of state and senate president, and Mrs. Tom McCall, whose late husband signed the 1971 bill as governor.
Opponents decry the initiative as ``badly written'' and ``an overly complicated deposit scheme'' that would undermine the existing bottle bill and curbside recycling programs. Opponents claim the support of 26 sponsors of the 1971 bottle bill including the author and two co-authors.
The initiative exempts containers of dairy liquids, liquor, or wine with more than 8 percent alcoholic content and imposes deposits on ``an arbitrarily selected list of beverages, container types and container sizes,'' opponents say.
``The measure would create millions of dollars in higher costs for consumers, store owners - especially small store owners,'' opponents say.
The Los Angeles-based public relations agency Winner/Wagner and Mandabach runs the opposition campaign with a broad-based funding of more than $3 million from large corporations, small businesses and associations such as the Grocery Manufacturers of America.