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Monday, October 08, 2007
Menace to society: Portland's bottle return machines
A decade ago returning bottles and cans to Portland supermarkets was a much different experience than it is today. Back then you'd have to stand around waiting while a stockboy sorted through everything. It was a hassle and it took a lot more time but there was one key advantage to the old system: you got a nickel for everything you brought in. This included even the oldest can of Pepsi that was crushed against the forehead of a friend months prior (these machines started popping up around town long before my colleagues and I had reached an age when we didn't think beer tasted "yucko." Thus, all the crushed soda cans.)
Now everything's automated and anyone returning their empties is subject to the mysterious whims of the bottle return machines parked in front of every supermarket in the city. Increasingly, they spit out most of what you put in them. This afternoon I found myself in front of the machines at the Fred Meyers in Raleigh Hills, muttering under my breath after one of them rejected 3/4s of the bottles I put in it.
Supposedly, grocery stores in the area only have to accept bottles and cans for products they sell on their shelves. Maybe this policy was always in effect but the stockboys of olden days never seemed to care what you brought in, unlike the machines used now. As if this wasn't already a detriment to Oregon's Bottle Bill and a major hassle for homeless bottle hunters, the scanners on many of these machines, especially the ones located at least three different Fred Meyers in Portland, are almost completely worthless. One of my Coke cans, in perfect shape, was rejected three times this afternoon. The machine refused the bottles of Rogue I bought at the same store months prior. The cans of Thai Red Bull knock-offs I picked up at Fubonn a while back? Forgedaboutit.
Out of the 50 bottles and cans I came in with, only 20 of them were accepted by Fred Meyers' machines. So what I did do? The same thing other locals have being doing for years since these machines showed up: I ditched them in a shopping cart nearby. If I didn't know better, I'd assume that the whole thing is a plot orchestrated by local grocery store owners. Why pay your customers for returning bottles when you can merely send an employee out every hour to pick up all the rejects? Why else would there be a conveniently-placed cart right next to the machines? Any store you go to, there's always a cart sitting right there. I wonder how much the Fred Meyers in Raleigh Hills nets in abandoned bottles and cans during the average business day. Those cunning bastards.