Could a 10-cent bottle deposit system be in the state’s future?

Feb 2, 2024, 6:40 AM | Updated: 10:19 am

Cans and plastic bottles brought in for recycling fill containers at a recycling center in Sacramen...

Cans and plastic bottles brought in for recycling fill containers at a recycling center in Sacramento, California, in July 2016. (File photo: Rich Pedroncelli, AP)

(File photo: Rich Pedroncelli, AP)

In a bid to encourage recycling and promote environmental sustainability, state lawmakers are considering the implementation of a 10-cent beverage container deposit system under House Bill 2144. (A new version of the bill can be viewed here.)

It’s a proposal supported by beverage distributors but opposed by grocery stores and existing recycling and waste management businesses.

System is modeled after Oregon’s

The proposal is modeled after a deposit system that has existed in Oregon in some form since it became the first state to implement one in 1971. The bottle deposit has been 10 cents since 2017.

The Oregon Beverage and Recycling Cooperative (OBRC), which oversees the Bottle Bill program, released its 2022 data in the spring of 2023 and stated that 2.05 billion containers were returned. (The organization’s 2022 report can be viewed here.)

Preliminary data from that 2022 report also indicated an 88.5% redemption rate, up nearly 8%, OBRC president and CEO Jules Bailey said at the time. Bailey also noted Oregon has the highest redemption rate of any state in the U.S.

The Washington State Department of Ecology estimates Washington’s return rate of recyclable beverage containers is 30%.

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An incentive program to recycle

At its core, HB 2144 is an incentive program to recycle. By returning a bottle, can or plastic container, consumers will get their the 10-cent deposit they paid when the product was purchased.

It relies on the beverage distribution industry to set up a cooperative to run the system, similar to the one Oregon has established.

The cooperative charges the distributor 10 cents for every beverage container they sell. The distributor recoups that money by charging retailers 10 cents, who then recoup that money by charging consumers 10 cents.

Consumers can then redeem the deposit after they return the containers to drop-off centers for a voucher that can be used at a retail store. The voucher would be funded by the cooperative – essentially making the system a big circle.

The cooperative would pocket any deposit that goes unclaimed.

In Oregon, the drop-off locations are at the retail location, but currently, HB 2144 doesn’t specify where the locations are.

“So there’s no guarantee on locations right now, but potentially it could be at your retailer,” Scott Hazelwood, representing Washington Beer & Wine Distributors, said.

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Receiving a deposit back won’t be as simple as dumping containers into a machine and getting cash back immediately.

It will operate similarly to the bag program in Oregon.

“You can put your glass, plastic, and metal containers in a bag, there’s a sticker on the bag that is associated with your account, and you just drop it off at any of the drop-off locations in the state. The containers are counted on the back end and credited to your account,” Eric Chambers of the OBRC said.

The bill requires retailers to install a kiosk the size of a large iPad that will print out a voucher for the balance in your account.

Consumers will be able to use that voucher at the retailer’s checkout area.

“It’s a bit of a foreign concept in a state that’s not familiar with it,” Chambers said. “In Oregon, we have 1 million bottle drop account holders, who turned back in about 12 million bags a year. The only requirement of retailers in the bill is that they receive a kiosk so you can get your cash out.”

Opposition to the bottle bill

Katie Beeson, representing the Washington Food Industry Association, testified against the bill on behalf of the state’s small and medium-sized grocers.

“Our biggest concern is the mandatory kiosks for our store, and we’d be forced to a deposit return center which our members don’t want to become,” she said.

Beeson cited store space, parking, and permit reasons as other reasons to oppose the bill.

She added that stores will be double-taxed on the additional 10-cent deposit paid at the register in the form of higher business and opportunity taxes and the litter tax.

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“First, make no mistake, this is a beverage container tax,” Wendy Weicker of Republic Services said.

The company “has been a trusted partner for sustainable recycling and waste solutions” for decades, according to its website.

She said, if adopted, her company would see a 16% reduction in material coming from the recycling bins the company picks up and a 27% reduction in revenue from existing partnerships from contracted cities.

We’ve been in a similar place before

This is not the first time a deposit incentive recycling program has been proposed in the state of Washington.

In 2023, the House of Representatives failed to take action on the Washington Recycling and Packaging (WRAP) Act, a broad set of recycling initiatives.

The 10-cent deposit redemption proposed in HB 2144 was pulled from the WRAP Act in the hopes it would be more acceptable for passage by lawmakers.

Three times, voters in the state have rejected initiative-led bottle redemption bills three times, once in 1970 and again in 1979 and 1982.

Contributing: Steve Coogan, MyNorthwest

Matt Markovich often covers the state legislature and public policy for KIRO Newsradio. You can read more of Matt’s stories here. Follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email him here.

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Could a 10-cent bottle deposit system be in the state’s future?