22 November 2020

The BottleDrop Scam

261,683   people in the United States have now died from Covid-19. It’s not what I want to talk about, but everything else is trivial compared to the ongoing disaster. Well, not the other ongoing disasters, I suppose—global warming, the great extinction event, the coming nuclear apocalypse, and so on and so forth—but, you know, the inanities of the economy, business, politics, entertainment, sports—even the sciences and the arts when you get right down to it. If you can’t bop to it, don’t buy the record, as the man said.

But the triviality I want to rant about today is the great BottleDrop scam right here in Oregon, something that is irritating me right now because of something that happened to me today. When I went down to the Burlingame Fred Meyer I walked past the bottle return center (as it is part of my regular route from the bus) and glanced over at it to see large signs posted there to the effect that it was closed. Permanently. It looked like they would still do hand counts for small amounts of cans or bottles, but otherwise, unless you were a BottleDrop customer, you were shit out of luck on getting your money back.

The store employee I talked to—who is a really nice guy who has been very helpful in the past—candidly admitted that the object was to get people to use the “green bags.” I admitted (with equal candor) that I hate the “green bags” program and have no intention of using it. Ever.

Let me explain. Under the old system when I paid a deposit on a returnable bottle I could get my money back by returning it to the place I bought it. It was a simple, straightforward transaction. Take the bottles in and leave with the money. Typically I would begin a shopping trip by returning my bottles, collecting the money (or taking the equivalent off my purchase), and buying whatever it was I’d come for. It was relatively easy to manage.

But no more. Under the “green bags” system I have to set up a special account, put my bottles in special “green bags”, and deposit them at a “convenient” BottleDrop return center. My bottles will be processed in three to five business days and the money added to my account. I can have the money in my account given to the charity of my choice, or if I absolutely insist on getting my money back, can obtain it from certain special locations.

Okay—let’s see how this works in practice. A 13-gallon garbage bag will hold ten, maybe twelve two-liter bottles. I can carry maybe two of these without too much inconvenience on the bus, so say, twenty to twenty-four bottles. Under the old system I’d take them in to the store, run them through a machine, receive a voucher for say $2.00 to $2.40, and present it as I buy my groceries on the way out. But under the new system I have to put the bottles in special “green bags”—each holding thirteen gallons. So let’s say I manage to cram twelve bottles apiece into two “green bags”, tie them and label them with the correct stickers, take the bus to a “convenient” location to leave them off—well, isn’t that essentially the same thing, except that I have to wait for my money those three to five business days?

Well … no. Those “green bags” aren’t free, for one thing—they cost $2.00 for ten bags. That’s twenty cents apiece. So I’m already out forty cents before I ever receive any credit towards that $2.40 I might have coming. But still—a two-dollar return on a forty-cent investment? That’s not too bad, right? Except that the money in question is my money already, a deposit that I put down and should be able to get back. And to cap things off, I’m not going to get $2.00 back—because there’s a forty-cent additional fee attached to processing each bag. In fact I am going to get $1.20 back on my $2.40 investment—not enough to even pay the bus fare to run the bottles to that “convenient” location. It’s a losing proposition all round.

Now obviously if you have a car, or happen to live right by one of these “convenient” locations, or habitually drink 8 oz. returnable cans and can stuff a couple hundred of them in a “green bag,” you may find the whole concept a more attractive proposition. For people like me, however, it’s purely inane. I’m probably better off just tossing the bottles and losing my deposit. It’s better than lending support to this pointless scam, at the very least.

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