Oregon’s Bottle Bill Deposit Rate Increases to Ten Cents!

In 1971, Oregon Governor Tom McCall (pictured here on the left in a classic photo by Gerry Lewin) signed a piece of legislation into law known as the Bottle Bill. It required a cash deposit of five cents on returnable cans and bottles and was the first law of its kind in the nation. The Bottle Bill became a cornerstone of McCall’s visionary tenure as Governor and a part of every Oregonian who grew up with it and integrated the recycling into their lives.

Like me. Collecting cans and bottles alongside roadways as a kid in Oregon City during the loose 1970s was my first real job outside of yard work. I used the proceeds to buy books, toys, snacks and later, in junior high, movie dates! That ready cash went a long way in that first 10-15 years of the Bottle Bill and in my early 20s it was a rite of Oregon passage to redeem all your empty beer cans and bottles at the grocery store and buy more beer.

Today, April 1, 2017, 46 years later, the rate of deposit goes up to ten cents. That it took almost half a century for an increase says a lot about Oregon politics the last two decades but I don’t feel like saying it here.

That five cents will go a long way for some people. I’ve recently met men who are living off returning cans and bottles.

In celebration of this rate increase, I would like to present one of my favorite Oregon poems, “Oregon’s Revolutionary Bottle Law,” written by Robert A. Davies. I’m not positive, but I believe Davies published the poem as part of a collection not long after passage of the bill. This is a truly remarkable poem to me because of what the poet observes happening after the bottles and cans became valuable. It was a “revolution” as he states, and it enabled others to see others for the first time. Perhaps even interact with them. Sometimes this kind of seeing and interaction unnerves people, but I think it’s healthy for a democracy.

“Oregon’s Revolutionary Bottle Law,” is the only poem I have ever read that was inspired by an act of a state legislature. It might be the only one ever written anywhere. But then again, that was Stone Oregon in the McCall era.



the returnable bottle

turned to revolution,

crews deployed to pick heads up

on roadsides. On streets

of aristocrats

motorized units

of shopping carts squeaked

like rats all day long.


Some of us started saying

hello to them: the man in checkered suit, with red hair —

the respectable-looking

one who walked his terrier —

some with pockets for buttocks —

the bearded, ill-shod —

all collecting bot-

tles, some tasting our moldy

cake. Let them eat cake.


It was so different

when we didn’t see.

What was money for?

our neighborhood invaded

by people who had no roof

to call their own. Or no food.

Too few bottles on our street:

Why didn’t they unionize?

(It had come to this)

so many to work a street.


Earlier and earlier

they came, more and more-

smells and squeaks drifting

into our sleep. No

sleep at length. No! We wouldn’t

put up with it. Our mayor

would have to stop it.

He wouldn’t, was their mayor

too. Imagine! It was then

we turned into poison.