In a victory hailed by both recyclers and anti-litter advocates, Oregon is set to add water and flavored-water bottles to its 36-year-old bottle-deposit bill, starting Jan. 1, 2009.
Oregon is the first state to expand its bottle-deposit law to include water bottles since California in 2000.
A more comprehensive measure in Connecticut that would double that state's deposit fee to 10 cents and add water, sports, teas and juices bottles was killed in committee last week, but is expected to resurface as an amendment to an existing bill this week, said Jessie Stratton, a consultant and former chairman of the House Environment Committee in Connecticut.
The Oregon bill cleared its last major hurdle May 24 when its House of Representatives approved the amended version of S707 by a 42-16 vote. Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongski has said he will sign the bill - which has been a priority for both his administration and the Democratic majority in both sides of the Legislature.
The Senate, which passed an earlier version 23-7, will give its approval, possibly as early as May 29.
``This should cause a significant increase in plastic recycling and return a lot of PET to the stream of commercial recyclers,'' said Rick Winterhalter, legislative chair of the Association of Oregon Recyclers in Portland. ``The impact should be fairly positive.''
Adding water bottles to the current bottle bill will almost double the amount of water bottles recycled annually in Oregon to 115 million and reduce the number of water bottles landfilled from 126 million to 70 million, based on 2005 data, said Peter Spendelow, solid waste specialist in the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
He said he anticipates the recycling rate for water bottles will increase to 62 percent from 32 percent after the bill goes into effect. The recycling rate for PET soft drink containers in Oregon is 82 percent.
States have begun to target water bottles because the number of water bottles sold in the U.S. has grown ninefold since 1997 and doubled since 2002 to 29.8 billion, according to data from the Container Recycling Institute in Washington.
``It demonstrates that the momentum is here,'' said Elizabeth McLaughlin, executive director of CRI. ``The fact that one state will go all the way will help the other states'' looking to expand bottle bills. Eleven states currently have bottle-deposit bills for soft drinks, but only three - California, Maine and Hawaii - include water bottles.
The pending Connecticut bill would cover all glass, aluminum and PET containers under 20 ounces with exemptions for dairy, soy and ales. The Oregon bill covers containers up to 3 liters.
The Oregon bill also would create a nine-person task force to study whether to add more drink containers to the bill and to study and report back to the Legislature by Nov. 1, 2008 - in advance of its next legislative session - on the feasibility of setting up state-run redemption centers.
The Northwest Grocers Association, which represents grocery stores, has said it will consider seeking a voter referendum to approve funding for state-run redemption centers to take deposits out of the stores.
But Paul Romain, lobbyist for the Oregon Beer and Wine Distributors Association, said switching from 2,500 locations for redemption down to 100-150 is a flawed concept. ``With fewer places to redeem, there will be less participation by consumers. Long-term, I think you will see small redemption centers in retail parking lots with the products never going back into a retail shop,'' he said.
``Litter is a problem, but we haven't been creative enough'' in solving it, said Romain. ``We need to get creative and find the most effective way to get the water bottles returned and recycled. As soon as we stop fighting each other, we will get to a solution and figure out a cost-effective system to make things work.''
Winterhalter agreed. ``The task force has to put together a program that will prove equitable to all and well-serve the customer. We need to keep how the material is handled, but make it accountable to all - the retailers, the consumers and the distributors.''