The next time you’re having a frustrating experience with a bottle return machine, there is one key fact to keep in mind to help explain the situation: For every container you fail to return, the organization that provides the vast majority of the return machines gets to keep your deposit nickel. With the deposit amount increasing to 10 cents next April it’s time to re-examine the system.
When fewer containers are returned, the recycling system operator, the Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative (OBRC) gets more money, not less. The monetary incentive is for the machines not to work.
Sure, it's only a nickel (for now - it goes up to ten cents per container next year), but last year, OBRC took in $20 million in nickels. As for the redeemed containers, OBRC sells them for scrap, so they get even more money. And better yet (for them): they're a private organization. The way the law works in Oregon is thus: if redemption rate (not recycling, just redemption) falls below 80% for two years, the container deposit doubles. That's why next year the deposits per container will double.
Since roadside recycling is now mandatory, if the redemption machines aren't working, many people just say "screw it" and stuff their containers into their home recycling bins. This effectively doubles the incentives for OBRC, and it's less hassle for the store employees as well. It just eventually raises your costs; everyone wins except you.
Other states have adopted a different approach: revenues from unredeemed containers go into a state fund - not to beverage distributors like OBRC. They can still sell the scrap, but they don't get those millions of dollars in nickels. It might be a good idea for Oregon to make a few changes in their approach.