Ontario BottleDrop takes steps to block Idaho cans and bottles

By Antonio Sierra (OPB)
April 28, 2023 12 p.m.

Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative says it checks license plates and IDs to verify if recycling comes from Oregon

Oregon offers one of the most generous returns on recycled bottles and cans in the U.S. And the organization in charge of managing the state’s recycling program wants to make sure Idaho residents who live near an Oregon border town are not taking advantage of the system.

The Argus Observer in Ontario recently reported that one of Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative’s facilities in the small Eastern Oregon town was passing out cards explaining why they may reject a customer’s recycling.

A row of sparkling clean reverse vending machines greet customers at the grand opening of the Medford BottleDrop center.

A row of sparkling clean reverse vending machines greet customers at the grand opening of the Medford BottleDrop center.

Jes Burns/EarthFix

The cooperative operates the BottleDrop chain of recycling centers, and according to spokesman Eric Chambers, spring usually sees an uptick in recycling as the weather improves.

Chambers said the cooperative’s policy isn’t new, but employees can verify a can or bottle’s origins by checking car license plates or asking for an ID card. An Idaho resident could still redeem their recycling in Ontario, but they would need to provide a receipt or some other proof they bought the container in Oregon.

“We can’t have Oregonians paying out refunds on containers that didn’t have a deposit paid,” he said. “The Bottle Bill allows for us to reject containers that we can reasonably assume were not redeemable in Oregon.”


Oregon’s recycling program is the product of the state’s Bottle Bill, a 1971 law designed to clear the state’s beaches and roadsides of bottles and cans by having Oregonians redeem a deposit they pay upon purchasing a recyclable container.

Since then, the law has proven to be both successful and popular. According to the cooperative’s data, nearly 90% of recyclable bottles and cans were redeemed last year, handily trouncing the country’s 35% redemption rate. The Bottle Bill was popular enough that the Legislature bumped the recycling deposit from 5 cents to 10 cents in 2017.

The state’s pioneering bottle redemption system puts communities like Ontario in a unique position given its traditionally symbiotic relationship with Idaho. Malheur County is the only Oregon county in the Mountain Time Zone and Ontario is far closer to Boise than it is to Portland or Salem.

While Ontario and Malheur County have long been border communities, their roles have taken on more meaning as the political divides between Idaho and Oregon grow. Ontario’s expansive cannabis market gets so much traffic from Idaho, where the drug remains illegal, that local leaders have spent the past few sessions pushing a bill that would allow the city to tax cannabis at a higher rate.

And although Planned Parenthood said it also planned to serve Eastern Oregon residents, the health care organization opened an abortion clinic in Ontario not too long after Idaho banned the procedure.

In the lower stakes world of recycling fraud, Idaho isn’t the only state the bottle collective is tracking. Oregon is one of the few states in the West to offer recycling redemption, meaning Washington doesn’t offer the program either. For BottleDrops near Washington, like locations in Portland or Hermiston, Chambers said the cooperative takes similar precautions.

Chambers said the easiest way for Oregon to prevent recycling fraud would be for neighboring states to adopt similar bottle bills. Of Oregon’s neighbors, only California offers a redemption program.

“Parallel policy would help make sure that folks from Idaho have good redemption options and folks from Washington have good redemption options right there in their states,” he said. “Parallel policy would be the absolute best solution for the earth and for the functions of the deposit return systems, no question.”


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