A rapid increase in the number of bottles and can buybacks since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic suggests that people are buying more drinks to drink at home – and recycling to get their deposit money back in their pockets.
Edward Ulbricht, 61, is a seasoned recycler who searches for cans to earn a few bucks here and there. He calls it “canning,” hunting down cans thrown in public spaces and recycling them so they can be collected and returned for cash through the Oregon Bottle Bill.
Introduced in 1971, the bill adds a 10-cent deposit to the sale of every bottle and can of beer, soda, and similar beverages sold in Oregon, which can be redeemed by returning the bottle.
Ulbricht is just one of many Oregonians to be found at one of the local sites of BottleDrop, a statewide network of deposit redemption centers. The centers, managed by the Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative, process returnable products on-site and offer a service that allows consumers to drop their bottles into specially marked green bags to be counted and credited to their accounts.
More and more people are using the drop-and-go recyclable returns program.
Since the end of April, the state has seen an average of 1,000 new BottleDrop accounts created every day, said Joel Schoening, the co-op’s community relations manager.
“We have opened 100,000 accounts in the past four months,” he said.
There are now 525,000 accounts statewide, with 120,000 added in the past six months, he said.
The statewide stay-at-home order forced state redemption centers to process all returnable items. The coalition works in tandem with retailers and grocery stores, which are typically responsible for collecting 35% to 40% of returnable bottles and cans. But when stores had to focus on safety amid the surge in pandemic shopping, the collection requirement was relaxed by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.
“(Grocery stores) shut down their bottle return operations so they could focus on maintaining shelves, but what that meant for bottling and can returns was that, overnight, 35% of the system has been closed, ”Schoening explained. “We had taken about 64% of the returns statewide and suddenly we took 100% of the returns.”
Some “reverse vending machines”, where cans are fed by hand, were subsequently closed to respect social distancing around the state. Reverse vending machines are located like kiosks side-by-side along a wall in the redemption center – now they’re individually separated, according to Schoening.
“We worked really hard to maintain access during this time because we recognized that more and more people were out of work, that many more people were consuming drinks at home and paying that down payment to (buy it back more late), ”Schoening said. “Last year our summer peak in our green bag program was around 23,000 green bags processed per day and we are already making well over 30,000 bags per day right now.
With so many people using the bag drop option, Schoening reminds people to “tie it tight, keep it light, and not see the trash.”
If you need more green bags, don’t worry about the long lines. People looking for more green bags can go directly to customer service.
“People who have a backlog of bottles and cans in their garages right now, storing them and waiting for the right time to bring them back, should look for a local nonprofit to donate to them,” Schoening said.
The cooperative supports a network of over 2,000 nonprofit organizations through BottleDrop Give. BottleDrop account holders can donate to a nonprofit organization of their choice by clicking Donate to transfer the funds from the account. BottleDrop Blue Bag fundraisers can be found or hosted through OBRC, bottledropcenters.com/donate-nonprofits.
Regular recycler Ulbricht enjoys dealing with the BottleDrop center, he prefers the Eugene BottleDrop rather than navigating hard times and retailer redemption point rules.
“Many grocery stores limit it from that time to this time or only accept cans that were sold there,” Ulbricht said. Ulbricht is homeless and although he is not financially dependent on the return of cans and bottles, access is important.
“A typical day could cost anywhere from $ 3 to $ 20,” he said. Granted, he’s not aggressive about canning, but a few good days helped him get a phone after his backpack was stolen.
“Collecting cans helps me get through to the end,” Ulbricht said.
Contact reporter Dana Sparks at [email protected] or 541-338-2243, and follow her on Twitter @danamsparks and Instagram @danasparksphoto.
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