This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Oregon Bottle Bill (OBB), the first modern bottle bill. The goals emphasized recycling containers and reducing litter, at which the OBB has succeeded admirably. Then-Gov. Republican Tom McCall said that the OBB “has been an iconic symbol of Oregon’s love of natural beauty and conservation, and the fight against litter and the throwaway mentality.” Many other jurisdictions have copied the OBB.
The OBB also resulted in more positive attitudes toward recycling in Oregon because people observed their neighbors recycling and realized that preserving natural beauty and sustaining resources are important social norms here.
In 2007 and 2011 the Legislature updated the OBB to adjust for inflation and to expand the definition of “containers” to fit evolving patterns of consumption. The revised laws also added privately run recycling centers in order to reduce the burden on retailers.
We need to promote sustainability. Americans use more than 50 billion water containers per year, most of which are manufactured from problematic oil and natural gas. I have a beautiful carpet manufactured from recycled plastic soft-drink containers, for example. Americans also use more than 50 billion aluminum containers each year.
Manufacturing virgin aluminum each year uses as much energy as the entire nation’s daily consumption of gasoline. Manufacturing new aluminum cans from recycled cans requires 5 percent as much energy.
The OBB has improved the quality of life here by some measures and moves toward sustainability. We now must expand recycling of other packaging, especially plastics.