A powerful coalition of grocers, convenience-store operators and beverage producers convinced about 60 percent of the Oregon electorate to defeat a Nov. 5 ballot initiative to expand the state's bottle bill. ``Oregonians understood Measure 37 was very confusing, would replace an Oregon bottle bill that works well, would undermine our recycling program and would cost grocers a lot of money,'' Gail Dundas, spokeswoman for Oregonians Against Measure 37, said in a telephone interview.
``Oregonians have a bottle bill in effect and a recycling program that is in its infancy compared to the bottle bill,'' she said.
With its goal achieved, Dundas could not speculate on the coalition's future.
Proponents criticized the opposition's campaign ethics.
``Free speech allows you to lie,'' Chris Taylor, director of proponent Oregon Bottle Bill Campaign, said in a post-mortem. ``They told things that were not true. They spent millions of dollars to mislead people'' in television and radio advertisements and direct mail fliers.
``Here you have sworn enemies of bottle bill,'' Taylor said, ``but in Oregon, they were forced to masquerade as defenders of the bottle bill. We have a coalition of 450 groups and individuals. They had a campaign driven by focus groups.''
Interim filings showed Measure 37 proponents had raised $197,986, the Portland-based Oregonian, a statewide newspaper, reported Oct. 31.
Opponents had raised $3,049,620, of which about 83 percent came from out-of-state sources. Key contributors included Procter & Gamble Co. in Cincinnati, Quaker Oats Co. in Chicago and Tropicana Products Inc. in Bradenton, Fla. Dundas noted that ``more than 700 Oregon stores donated'' to the opposition campaign.
Taylor said the Oregon Bottle Bill Campaign spent more than $300,000 and owed $132,000 in accounts payable as of Nov. 6. About 31,000 people contributed. Taylor anticipates the coalition in some form will ``work to expand the bottle bill in the 1997 legislature.''
The result showed that Oregon voters remain dedicated to curbside recycling programs, according to Luke B. Schmidt, president of the National Association for Plastic Container Recovery in Charlotte, N.C.
``Certainly, it was a monumental come-from-behind victory for the industry coalition when you look at how far down in the polls it was a month ago,'' he said. ``You won't see any lessening of the PET industry's commitment to recycling in the future.''
Media polls in September showed almost 80 percent favoring Measure 37.
The Oregon result was ``a case of the decision being bought by a very powerful and well-funded industry lobby,'' said Pat Franklin, acting director of the Washington-based Container Recycling Institute. ``They hoped a failure in Oregon would preclude attempts in other states. They may have miscalculated.''
Michigan and Massachusetts interest groups may press for 1997 legislation or possibly ballot initiatives.
The Michigan United Conservation Club will seek more size and rigid-container definitions ``to include containers that were not on the market 20 years ago,'' said Carey Rogers, environmental education specialist for the Lansing, Mich., group.
``We try to work with the legislature, but we have been successful with ballot proposals,'' she said. MUCC has 120,000 members in 470 clubs. Voters approved the Michigan bottle bill in 1976.
The Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group is actively working to expand that state's bottle-deposit law.