Wednesday, April 04, 2007

New Seasons CEO Backs Bottle Bill Expansion

Now THIS is what we mean when we talk about being a good corporate citizen:
Collecting returnable bottles and cans is definitely a hassle for grocers. But since we sell the drinks in the first place, it seems to me that we have the greatest responsibility to make certain the bottles don't end up in Oregon's landfills.

It's true that dealing with bottle refunds is a bit of a logistical nightmare for supermarkets. At each store someone has to take the returns back from customers and deal with sorting them. Grocers also must find a place to keep the empties until the distributor picks them up, which means that at any given moment a store may have up to 30 huge plastic bags piled up in a storeroom.

But the argument that accepting the returns is virtually impossible or somehow creates new food safety risks is simply self-serving and disingenuous.

At New Seasons Market we're standing up for the quality of life we all expect in Oregon, and we encourage others to join us by supporting expansion of the bottle bill. When you consider the current alternatives, the choice is clear.

As former Gov. Tom McCall might have said, not updating our recycling standards is a "shameless threat to our environment."
For those not from the Portland area, New Seasons is what I might call a hybrid health food store--their focus is definitely on organic, sustainable and local products, but they also stock tasty junk like soda. This is really helpful to us, because The Joes are not generally into fakey bacon or anise-based shampoos, but we like buying stuff that's not totally processed and festooned with high fructose corn syrup and trans fats. With Wild Oats or Whole Foods, we have to make a second trip to Safeway or whatever for the sugar cereals and whatnot.

And we're totally down with supporting local grocers who get their produce fresh from the Valley. What's more, each store has its own staff of actual chefs who create all manner of seasonal delights unique to the location, on top of the standard fare you can find at every store. The people are almost abnormally friendly, as if a small puff of hash smoke is intermittently being pushed through the air ducts leading into the employee lounge. Their "house rules" include things like "If you break it...don't worry," a policy on in-store snacking that reads "Go for it. Enjoy yourself. Pay for it on your way out," and a no-questions-asked returns policy. Bring back a box of tempeh nuggets, tell them it tastes like shower caulk, and they'll happily refund your ducats.

And now this. It's obvious that what makes New Seasons so special starts at the top. It takes a fair bit of confidence and strength of character for a CEO like Rohter to buck his industry, and let's be crystal clear: the grocery lobby is 100% against expanding the bottle bill, and will do whatever it thinks is necessary to block it. Not content just to express his support, Rohter calls out the Oregon Grocers' lobbyist Joe Gilliam, who bragged about being able to loose the dogs of war on legislators for suggesting such a thing--and notes that New Seasons actually withdrew from the OGA, because "it puts its own narrow interests before the community's." Bless you sir, bless you. Would that every Portland-area company felt so strongly about being a partner in the community, rather than just a profiteer.

Update, noon--
Should have mentioned this originally: if YOU support a common-sense expansion of the bottle bill, direct your attention to Senate Bill 707. If you like what it proposes to do, send a message to your representatives, urging them to support it as well. To make it easy for you, the kind folks at Onward Oregon have set up a form to contact your lawmakers, along with background information on the current problem and how SB707 feeds the solution. If you're really interested, a hearing on the bill is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon, which you can watch on O-Span or online.