The Oregon Bottle Bill of 1971 was the first container deposit legislation passed in the United States. It requires carbonated soft drink and beer containers sold in Oregon to be returnable with a minimum refund value. The law is credited with reducing litter and increasing container recycling. As a result, items which used to make up around 40% of roadside litter now represent about 6%. With return rates averaging 90%, another major benefit is in waste reduction and resource conservation, particularly for aluminum. By comparison, states without similar bills recycle on average 28% of their containers. Beverage distributors retain all deposits not reclaimed by consumers.
| States first enacting|
a Bottle Bill
Deposits on refillable glass bottles were the norm well before the 1930s, at which time the disposable steel beverage can began to slowly displace glass. By 1960, almost half of U.S. beer was in cans, while only five percent of soft drinks were not in bottles.
Vermont passed the first "bottle bill" in 1953, but it only banned non-refillable bottles. It expired in 1957 after beer industry lobbying.
British Columbia enacted North America's oldest beverage deposit system in 1970.
Beverage containers constitute as much as 58% of litter. States which have adopted bottle deposits have reduced litter as much as 64%. The container deposit system cost averages 1.53 cents per container (versus 1.25 cents for other collection systems) are more than two and a half times more effective at recycling containers.
Oregon's bottle bill inspired similar laws in eight other states between 1972 and 1983. California activists attempted to pass a bottle bill beginning in late 1970s but were blocked by recycling organizations. A modified bill passed in 1986. In 1991, Germany enacted an entirely different method which taxes manufacturers based on the amount of packaging.
By 1968, beer and soda companies were responsible for 173 million bottles and 263 million cans each year in Oregon.
Chambers began a letter-writing campaign, using non-ordinary stationery and stamps to draw the attention of his intended audience. Oregon House Bill 1157 was introduced and assigned to the House State and Federal Affairs Committee. Chambers brought in people to testify for the bill, including a river guide to testify about the amount of beverage package litter in the water, and a farmer who lost four cows due to ingestion of glass and metal shards from beverage containers. Beverage container materials companies and bottling companies fought the bill. Hanneman offered the compromise of not banning non-returnables but instead requiring a five-cent deposit as an incentive for return. By a 5 to 4 vote, the bill was sent to the House floor, where it fell 3 votes short of passage, with 27 of 60 members voting for it. Governor Tom McCall had already offered his support for the bill, so Hanneman asked McCall to help sway the House's vote in favor of passage. McCall refused, advising that he did not want a Bottle Bill in that legislative session. McCall planned to endorse the anti-littering campaign espoused by the Keep America Beautiful non-profit in 1970 and wait until 1971 to support the Bottle Bill. It has been written that this delay was intentional on McCall's part to make the bill his, and is partly a reaction to negative feelings for Hanneman's lack of support for the Beach Bill that McCall had championed earlier. After its defeat, Chambers continued his letter writing campaign.
After McCall refused to back the Bottle Bill in 1969, he sponsored the formation of non-profit SOLV—Stop Oregon Litter and Vandalism. In 1971, it was reported that 75% of SOLV's budget was derived from organizations opposing the bottle bill. SOLV also received state funds.
In 1970, McCall initiated his own campaign for the Bottle Bill. Among opponents of the bill were grocery stores who feared financial strains with the processing of returns. John Piacentini, the owner of Plaid Pantry convenience stores, challenged people to return soda and beer bottles to his stores for a half cent. Piacentini said he hoped to be buried in litter; within two weeks, 150,000 cans were returned and McCall ordered National Guard troops to take the bottles and cans away. This helped allay grocery stores' fears.
The new bill, House Bill 1036, banned non-returnables and placed a five-cent deposit on soda and beer bottles. More than 20 corporations sent lobbyists (some from the eastern United States) to fight the bill, and rumors of bribing state legislators circulated. Oregon legislators were put off by what they considered condescending Eastern tactics. One senator detailed her offer of a bribe while speaking on the Senate floor, which helped strengthen support for the Bottle Bill.
In 1974, when Chambers' friends found out that he was dying from cancer, they encouraged McCall to award Chambers the Clean Up Pollution Award. When urged to fight for the Bottle Bill in other states, Chambers was quoted as saying, "I accomplished what I set out to do. I don't give a shit what the rest of the world has done with its litter because now Oregon has this bill."
On June 7 2007, Governor Ted Kulongoski signed Senate Bill 707 into law, which will add water bottles to the deposit law. The law will go into effect January 1, 2009. Of the 9 states that had bottle bill laws at that time, only Maine, California and Hawaii included water bottles.
The 2007 legislature also created a task force, charged with making recommendations for further updating of the Bottle Bill to the 2009 legislature. Updates under consideration include adding products like wine and juice bottles, and increasing the deposit amount from 5 cents.
The Container Recycling Institute estimates that 125 million disposable water bottles were sold in Oregon in 2005, more than the number of soft drink bottles, and the recycling rate for water bottles was 32 percent, compared with 82 percent for beer and soft drink bottles.