Storm knocks out recycling machines

I drove by Food 4 Less Sunday evening to return some cans and bottles, but all the machines had tape across the input holes. So what gives, can the mighty Since You Asked snoops give me an answer?

Terry H. — Medford

It turns out the same windstorm that blew over trees and knocked out power to thousands of homes throughout Southern Oregon sent the Food 4 Less recycling computers into a tizzy as well.

The recycling machines typically process between 5,000 and 6,000 cans and bottles every day.

According to bookkeeper Shennita Kinney, the machines, which calculate the number of returned cans and bottles, went on the fritz between 2 and 3 p.m. March 13. The computers that enable the machines to identify and count containers as well as print the refund receipts weren't able to reboot until about midnight.

While we were debating the merits of the bottle/can/plastic return machines, a nosey editor wondered what the law is regarding which containers can be rejected by a store.

According to the Department of Environmental Quality, stores smaller than 5,000 square feet can reject any empty beverage containers they don't sell. This makes some sense. Why should small stores have to pay the refund on bottles they never got the money for in the first place?

But if all stores were allowed such a provision, the whole spirit of the law — to encourage people to recycle — would be sorely hampered. No one wants to go from store to store trying to remember which ones take which beverage containers.

To that end, stores larger than 5,000 square feet are required to take back empty containers if they sell that same kind of beverage (water, beer or soft drink) and if the containers are marked with the Oregon 5-cent refund value — even if the containers are different sizes or brands than the store sells.

If the aforementioned editor needs more information, he can go online to and type in "bottle bill" in the search field.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.

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