Take it slow on bottle bill expansion

Oregon's pioneering bottle bill could certainly use some updating. But we agree with the grocers on a state task force who are urging the Legislature to take it slowly.

In 1971, Oregon became the first state in the nation to require a refundable deposit on beer and soda containers in an attempt to cut down on roadside litter. Today, 80 percent of such containers are recycled in Oregon, and 10 states have enacted similar laws

A task force created by the Legislature and appointed by Gov. Ted Kulongoski has recommended doubling the deposit to 10 cents in three years and adding containers for sports drinks, coffee, tea, juice, wine and liquor to the list.

We're all for expanding the containers covered under the law. It has never made sense to require a deposit only on beer and soda containers, especially when so many other bottled beverages have come on the market in the decades since the law was passed.

But other recommendations from the task force need a close look before lawmakers race to expand container recycling.

Lawmakers already have added water bottles to the deposit requirement starting in January, as well as requiring retailers to accept containers they do not sell. That will hit grocers hard in a shaky economy.

Grocers have borne the brunt of the recycling effort for years, and are understandably wary of some of the task force recommendations.

Among those are establishing a network of redemption centers — as many as 90 across the state — paid for with unclaimed deposits. That money now goes to bottlers and distributors.

The task force recommends allowing retailers to stop accepting bottle returns if they are near one of the centers, but doesn't specify how close. That would hardly be fair to retailers not situated near a center who would have to continue to redeem bottles.

Other questions arise about the concept of free-standing centers. Safety would be a tremendous concern, especially if the redemption centers were built away from well-lighted, high-traffic areas such as shopping centers.

The public also likes the convenience of returning containers where they shop, for obvious reasons. And in a time when gas prices are soaring and the push is on to reduce fossil fuel use, forcing people to make an extra trip to a recycling station seems to be moving in the wrong direction.

We supported adding water bottles to the list of containers carrying a deposit. And in principle, we support continuing to expand the list. But a little patience won't hurt.

Lawmakers convening in Salem in January will face major problems, including severe cuts in state spending, that will occupy much of their time. They should give the recycling system time to absorb water bottles before adding more complexity and cost.

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