May 7, 2024 - News

Bottle and can recycling is causing friction in Portland

A worker at the NE122nd Ave bottle drop helps bottles and can along a conveyor belt.

A worker at the NE 122nd Avenue bottle drop helps bottles and can along a conveyor belt. Photo: Joseph Gallivan/Axios

Bottle drops are being targeted by some officials and neighborhoods that say they draw crime and drugs to those locations.

Why it matters: Gov. Tina Kotek ended a two-month pause on returns at two downtown bottle drops as the 90-day fentanyl emergency concluded last week, and Portland officials are still determining whether another drop can open in St. Johns.

Zoom in: Residents in St. Johns have protested plans to open a bottle redemption center in the former Dollar Tree on Lombard Street.

  • Local state Democratic Rep. Travis Nelson told Axios that his constituents do not want the bottle drop in St. Johns, and neighborhood association chair RJ DeMello told OPB he's argued for more housing instead.

The other side: "If our efforts to stop the scourge of fentanyl is to make $1 harder to get, I think we might have some real obstacles," Eric Chambers, the vice president of strategy and outreach at the Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative, told Axios.

By the numbers: Oregonians return about 80% to 90% of their recyclable containers, according to OBRC, among the highest rates in the country.

  • 80% come back through the bottle drop network and 20% through retail stores.

How it works: Oregon has a 10-cent deposit on most single-use bottles and cans. Retailers pass on that deposit to OBRC, a cooperative of drink distributors.

  • OBRC later pays it back to those who redeem their containers at grocery stores and bottle drops, like the one at NE 122nd Avenue and Glisan Street.
  • Customers can return loose cans to grocery stores for cash, where clerks often count them out by hand, but they can also use green plastic sacks, which have a QR Code linking the contents to their account.

What they're saying: St. Johns resident Burton Simmons said he looked up the public safety statistics for the Delta Park bottle return site and found 31 property crimes reported in the last 365 days, compared to a city average of one report in any given 10-acre area.

  • Simmons told Axios the data shows the centers are "magnets for crime" and the state should put effort into making curbside recycling easier for everyone.

What's next: Chambers said Portland officials are still deciding whether OBRC can open a bottle drop in St. Johns and he didn't know when that decision would be made.

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