By Jack Rubinger

In 1971 when Richard Nixon was president and Tom McCall was Oregon governor, Oregon was a pioneer in grocery store can/bottle redemption. Though in those days, it was only beer and soda bottles – no Gatorade, kombucha or bottled water.

This worked okay for a while and helped get cans and bottles off beaches and roadways, but over the years people found that returning bottles and cans wasn’t not exactly a pleasure. Dealing with old machines and at times standing in the rain led to a decline in redemption rates.

Inspired by the CLYNK! program in Maine, a coalition of beverage industry representatives, grocery stores and the recycling industry began acting together to reverse the downward trend in bottle redemption and provide a cleaner, more user-friendly model for consumers. The result was the launch of BottleDrop.

Now, 10 years later, BottleDrop offers three ways for people to return bottles and cans: at self-serve redemption centers, at stores which offer hand-counting services and through the Green Bag program.

The program allows people to drop off special green bags of bottles and cans with an Oregon refund value at Safeway, Fred Meyer and other stores. They do the counting and processing, and the value of the containers is credited to the returner’s BottleDrop account.

Account holders get 20 percent extra value on their returns with BottleDrop Plus, returned in the form of an in-store voucher and can make donations to nonprofits, or transfer their refunds directly to an Oregon College Savings Plan account.

By most accounts, the program is a huge hit. Last year, 100,000 new households signed up for the program.

Joel Schoening, Community Relations Manager for BottleDrop, said they’re currently signing up about 1,000 new accounts a day, a 400 percent increase in new users since the pandemic began.

Schoening said the sign-up process is being upgraded for greater simplicity. Digital cards will eventually replace the plastic card that needs to be scanned.

Some stores enforce a “two bags a day” rule, but ultimately, consumers can bring in up to 15 bags every three months.

Two key things to remember: don’t overload the bags and leave enough room to cinch them up at the top, and if you’re loading mostly glass bottles, only fill them about one-third full because of the weight.

Sign up for a free account at bottledropcenters.com or at a kiosk in a participating store. A roll of 10 Green Bags costs $2. All bag purchases and processing fees are debited from the returner’s account so no payment is required to get started. Tag stickers are required for each bag and are free to print from any BottleDrop kiosk.

BottleDrop file photo