TriMet Launches a Bus Line to Take People to Return Bottles and Cans

Returning bags of bottles and cans to get the 10-cent deposit has long been one of the ways the poorest Oregonians can make money. That became harder in March.

TriMet has launched a temporary bus line to transport riders to one of the few places where they can return cans and bottles for cash.

Line 297 will travel from the Rose Quarter to an emergency bottle return location in Industrial Northwest Portland, with a stop in Old Town.

"We as a society must recognize that collecting bottles and cans is the only way some in our community can support themselves financially," said TriMet General Manager Doug Kelsey.

Oregon's landmark Bottle Bill uses a 10-cent deposit to spur the recycling of empty containers. Returning bags of bottles and cans to get the 10-cent deposit has long been one of the ways the poorest Oregonians can make money. That became harder in March, when the Oregon Liquor Control Commission told grocery stores they're no longer required to accept empties during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Related: Oregon grocery stores don't have to accept returnable cans and bottles until June 1.

So the the Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative—the  industry co-op that oversees Oregon's Bottle Bill—opened an emergency bottle return center at its processing facility on Northwest Yeon Street.

Lines at the two OBRC facilities still accepting bottles—one in a North Portland shopping center, the other on Northeast 122nd Avenue—have grown long since grocery stores closed their bottle return stations. ORBC hopes the emergency station will ease that crunch.

"We know that recent limitations on returns has been hard for folks who've lost access," said Jules Bailey, chief stewardship officer for OBRC. "This emergency service will not only help shorten the lines at some of our BottleDrop sites, it will also provide another safe, clean option for returning containers and getting much needed refunds right away."

Northwest Yeon is several miles from downtown. It can be reached on TriMet's No. 16 bus—but the transit agency is restricting each bus to no more than 15 passengers. So TriMet decided to start a dedicated line for riders with bags of cans.

It will run from 8 am to 5:30 pm seven days a week. The bus line was requested by Gov. Kate Brown's office.

"By offering this free service, to get people to where they can return the containers, we hope to help those who rely on that money and open up space on other bus lines as we continue to encourage social distancing on board," said Kelsey.

The OBRC is still locked in a standoff with the landlord of its BottleDrop location in North Portland. That landlord, TMT Development, says the crowds gathering to return bottles and cans could spread the virus and endanger other tenants in the shopping center.

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