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BottleDrop a good concept, poorly executed

Through the powers of the Legislature — and with a considerable push from grocery store retailers — Oregon established redemption centers to collect bottles and cans subject to the state’s pioneering Bottle Bill requirements. Those centers, also referred to as BottleDrops, were good in concept.

They are a functional failure, however, if Medford’s BottleDrop is any indicator. Based on reports from elsewhere in the state, we are not alone in our displeasure over the operations. The Legislature created this; it now needs to fix it.

The local center is too small, apparently understaffed, and generally a rank and dirty place. Neighbors of the BottleDrop on Stowe Avenue in northwest Medford say those are the least of their concerns, as the arrival of the center brought with it a surge of ne’er-do-wells who camp on their properties, buy and use drugs — leaving behind dangerous syringes — and generally trash the neighborhood. Surrounding businesses have turned into fortresses, with barbed-wire-topped fences to keep would-be intruders at bay.

Neighbors of a Beaverton BottleDrop tell a similar story: cups of urine left in parking lots, buildings and equipment vandalized and regular drug use.

The BottleDrop idea was developed as an alternative to the process of customers returning bottles and cans to grocery stores, which found themselves dealing with the mess and, to a lesser degree, the undesirables who congregated near the machines (which seemed to routinely malfunction).

The redemption center law, which began as a test in 2011, allows grocery stores located within two miles of a center to contract with that center and decline to accept bottles and cans at their locations. Stores within three and a half miles can limit the number of returns to 24 per person per day.

The BottleDrops have a bonus feature — you can create an account at the center and receive a card and stickers with your own bar code. Then you can place your bottles and cans in a bag, mark it with a sticker and drop it in an outside door. Scan your bar code at a participating store and you’ll get a voucher to cash in at a register.

One BottleDrop is scarcely adequate for a city the size of Medford, however, and since it’s the only one in Jackson County, it ends up serving an even larger population. On weekends, the parking lot is overtaxed, the line to use the center’s machines stretches out the door and the receiving area for the tagged bags is clogged with bags that have not been dealt with. It is simply an inadequate facility.

The Legislature, in establishing the redemption centers, failed to address their ability to handle the resulting demand and failed to consider that centralizing the service in one location also would centralize a group of people who might not be the best of citizens. Establishing more specific rules about the centers’ operations and quantity of returnables received could help ameliorate both of those concerns.

Then the BottleDrops could become both a good concept and a good service.

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