Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative redeemed 2.09 billion containers in 2023, up from 2.05 billion containers in 2022. | Dan Leif/Resource Recycling

An Oregon beverage stewardship group that manages the oldest container deposit program in the country reported a preliminary 2023 redemption rate of 90.5%, the first time the program has topped 90% since 2019.

Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative, which acts as a producer responsibility organization for distributors who are required to comply with Oregon’s container deposit law, recently published its annual report covering 2023 return data. The vast majority of redemptions come through OBRC, which brings in containers through collection sites at retail locations, and through a network of dedicated redemption centers throughout the state.

The organization redeemed 2.09 billion containers in 2023, up from 2.05 billion containers in 2022. That equaled out to a preliminary rate estimate of 90.5%, up from 88.5% in 2022. It also translated to $208.8 million in container deposits redeemed.

The number of containers redeemed has steadily increased in recent years, climbing from 1.72 billion in 2018. But the preliminary redemption rate has fluctuated significantly, moving from 85% in 2018 up to 90.8% in 2019, dropping to 80.8% in 2020 and slowly climbing back to 2023’s 90.5% figure.

OBRC said the high figure is a “direct result of the convenience provided through a statewide network of return options.”

OBRC’s “BottleDrop” locations are a big part of that network. They’re a series of dedicated container redemption facilities offering an alternative to the traditional take-back system at grocery stores. Since 2011, when the first BottleDrop facility opened, these dedicated sites have grown to take in 79.5% of all containers redeemed in the state in 2023.

The expansion of this system throughout the state, as well as other factors like increasing the container deposit from 5 to 10 cents in 2017 and adding a bag-drop option as a convenient alternative to reverse vending machines, helped drive a huge increase in containers redeemed: The number has more than doubled since BottleDrop launched in 2011.

The cooperative also reports how much money went unredeemed. Under Oregon’s system, the distributor cooperative gets to keep the full sum of unredeemed deposit money, a detail that has drawn media scrutiny and piqued lawmaker interest. OBRC notes in each annual report that “the entire value of unclaimed refunds is fully invested in the deposit system.”

That value has fluctuated widely in recent years: In 2023, OBRC estimated the value of unclaimed refunds was $21.8 million, compared to $26.8 million in 2022, $38.2 million in 2021, $42.5 million in 2020, $18.2 million in 2019, and $29.0 million in 2018.

The preliminary report is followed by a final number that’s submitted to the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission later in the year. The number typically changes slightly after additional calculation, and the OLCC report also includes data from beverage distributors who don’t participate in the producer responsibility organization but rather meet the redemption requirements on their own.

As an example, in 2022, OBRC reported a preliminary redemption rate of 88.5%, and the final statewide numbers from the OLCC came in at 85.5%.

A version of this story appeared in Resource Recycling on Apr. 16. 

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