Viewpoint : Eugene Can: Boggled by the Bottle Bill.
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Eugene Can
Boggled by the Bottle Bill.

After living here for two years now, I am thinking of renaming Eugene, Ore., to Eugene, Can. Studying cans, can people, garbage cans, gas stations, and can haters (stores, big and small), has given me an encyclopedic knowledge of the can returnable business. No, this hasn't become an obsession with me, but I am getting wearily there. All of this came to a head not long ago when I tried to return some cans and bottles to my neighborhood store.   

"Can't take them," said the clerk. "Why not?" I asked. I was given the riot act about the Oregon Bottle Bill, or whatever it is called, and it appears that I had committed an environmental sin by bringing my returns in a plastic bag. The clerk backed away, saying, "Sorry, it's the law. The cans and bottles have to be in a paper bag." "Oh, really," I thought, as I purchased my goods, went outside, and took the denied cans and bottles out of the plastic bag, put them in the paper bag, and went back inside — finally receiving my refund. Jesus, it's hard to make a nickel these days.

It seems as if every store has their own rules. Another local store owner, screaming at me in Mandarin Chinese, admonished me for bringing cans in a paper bag. Her rules demanded that I bring them in a box. Well, what was one to do? Feed them to the birds?

I was just coming off a Pepsi hangover when my local Chevron barred me from their premises the other day. There, they absolutely refused to count them or touch them. "It's 10 cans in a paper bag," I said. There was a huge plastic barrel in back of the counter. It took two clerks to pull it out. They silently pointed their fingers at the barrel. "Why do I have to go through this every time I come in here?" I asked. "You're barred sir." I sheepishly left, thinking that it would be better to keep them and make a can sculpture. First time I was 86'd from a gas station. Only in Eugene.

Now, I was determined to get to the facts of this law. I found out some interesting things. Oregon became the first state to pass a can and bottle law in 1971. The first year, a savings of $656,832 in trash pick-ups was recorded. The deposit system provided a steady supply of clean, sorted recyclables that boost recycling markets. By 1979, the percentage of beverage containers littering Oregon's roads had decreased to 6 percent. But I found nothing about plastic bags, boxes, or paper bags.

"You'll learn, kid," said Jim, an experienced collector. "They (the stores) hate returnables and can people," continued my friend. Jim has been in the business for 20 years, making about $18 a day. A lot of the can people are idealists. Collecting cans and not slaving at a job is their mantra. They are the last rugged individualists.

Another can anarchist, Steve, a black dude who carries everything that he needs on his mountain bike, said to me, "Some stores will do anything to make the life of a can person miserable." Steve had given up on the system years ago after teaching African American history at Kansas State University. "Would you like a sandwich?' he asked while I sat with him as he read The Inferno by August Strindberg. The brother was on his lunch break. If I didn't get all of this hassle from shopkeepers, I might take up this profession myself. They certainly get paid better than free-lance writers.

I guess the automatic machines has helped immensely. One doesn't have to go through this nasty business of confrontation with real people. So, with the failure of my can sculpture, I loaded up and headed to the Red Apple supermarket. "Do you guys take bottles and cans?" I timidly asked. "Out back," she snarled. I would have felt better if she sent me to the real Outback of Australia. At the machines, I met two can veterans. Each must have had a thousand cans. My 15 cans didn't have a chance of getting in. "Hey fellows, need some more cans?" I asked. "Sure, brother," they said.

Everyone has his or her reasons for trying to escape their private unhappiness, and each of us, to that end, coaxes some ingenious method from the circumstances. Blessed are those who can content themselves with dealing in cans.

Jerry Harris is a Eugene sculptor and writer. His web site is:

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It was disappointing to read The Register-Guard City Beat/City of Eugene section on Sunday (7/13) indicating that the council decision on not forwarding the city auditor position to the voters was in favor of a truly independent auditor.

While the R-G's pages are covered with stories of external auditors (the council majority's preference) for Enron, WorldCom, Qwest, etc., falling way short of the mark, the best choice for true independence must be reevaluated.

The current trend, from R-G front page story today, indicates that these corporate problems "... are all there in the government's ledgers on a scale even the biggest companies could not dream of matching." Public perception/confidence would dictate that the truly independent auditor answer directly to the people and/or their representatives as CCRC recommended.

Since the City Charter grants authority to contract to the city manager only, the idea of having contracted audits as the preferred method of creating independence is painting a picture to the public that leaves me pondering the question, "What nuances are involved in truly independent reporting by a newspaper?"

Fortunately, the council majority understood the need for a full-time performance auditor to assist in evaluating the way our local government serves it's citizens, but could not agree on how to proceed. When the dust has settled, independence will continue to be the critical factor and how to achieve it best-evolved.

Marlene "Mitzi" Colbath


A "mega-child-care-facility" posing as a "small residential daycare center" is a wolf clothed in sheep's zoning.

Because traffic and parking problems are not taken care of first, the UO has to leapfrog from Agate Street and Columbia Street to east Moss Street. The Fairmount Neighborhood Association passed a resolution 21-5, with three abstaining, to follow the Fairmount/UO Special Area Study with its essential principle of prohibiting leapfrogging and stipulating "incremental encroachment."

The land use proposed by the UO for a consolidated child care facility on such a small acreage (.75 acre) is incompatible with activities at nearby residences which have combined acreages of comparable size or are bigger. "Two hundred and seventy persons converging on a small acreage" is a smaller aggravating traffic factor in an even greater traffic context concentrating on the neighborhood daily.

Consolidation of child care is a bad idea. Many child education advocates and teachers would discourage such consolidation and support a diverse outlay of child care centers for the reason that child care is not supposed to have the atmosphere of an assembly line of consolidated institutionality.

Keeping child care centers small, less conspicuous, and more convenient is desirable for a child's emotional development as well as safety. Administration should consolidate while daycare should logically diversify.

Communication of ideas and the communication of disease follow similar mathematical analysis: Having so many people jammed into a small area is good for the communication of disease and bad for the communication of ideas.

Toby Grant


The article on the Oregon Country Fair, "Countercultural Institution" (7/11), disclosed many facts and figures about the annual event. However, the author unfortunately left out the glaring issue of how little the OCF actually pays musicians (8 percent of buget). Oddly, the OCF believes that the event is so cherished that it's a privilege to perform there and thus they expect performers to lower their fee.

Want proof? Check out the contracts. This unconscionable practice only prolongs what musicians constantly face while earning a living through their art: disrespect and low pay.

A full-time musician devotes years to classes, lessons and practice, buys expensive instruments and equipment, travels, writes songs, records, markets and distributes product. It's all hard work and a constant struggle just to make ends meet.

With rising attendance and a 70 percent hike in ticket prices over the last decade, the OCF should modify this shameful practice to reflect the increased revenue and pay entertainers a fair rate of exchange for their hard work. Maybe they could find the money in the largest single slice (23 percent) of the budget pie chart listed as "other." Whatever that means.

It all boils down to this: with assets in the tax year 2000 listed as $1.8 million and annual budget of $950,000, a socially responsible organization like the OCF, deeply rooted in our culture and community, should set an example of fairness (no pun intended) and do the right thing. Pay the entertainers, some who helped build the OCF into a thriving business, what they deserve; enough money to make a living and raise a family. Nothing more, nothing less. Until then, its reputation as a "countercultural institution" will persist.

Bill Storms
Eugene Musician


Let the peoples of the world largely note and long remember that capital/religious/environmental decadence reached its peak during the illegitimate reign of U.S. King George II and of Ashcroft nothing.

We should also note that the beast of greed is most vulnerable when it reaches outrageous heights of widespread decadence, for then the spear of reason and truthful reality can easily penetrate to the core of its despicable blubbery dominion. The bombs of truth are mightier than the bombs of lies and death. A few more whistleblowers and the deed is done.

Bob Saxton


I fully support the views of Wild Wilderness ( and many other environmental organizations protesting fees for spending time in our natural wildland heritage. But I also have my own perspectives.

I was raised on farms. I feel living in the country went a long way toward developing my character, and helping me to understand the time-tested "real" world, rather than just the human-created nuevo-world. The trail fee program makes the "wilderness" seem ever more like Disneyland. Would the revenue ever cover much more than the cost of administering it? In any case, after this overhead, trail fees should be for trail maintenance and little else — especially not to build more roads, not for most fire prevention, not for buildings and simple entertainment-type developments, or as a substitute for logging/grazing/mining fees.

I frequently move branches and small logs off trails, cut ditches to direct water off trails and pick up litter. I like to think that one of my main purposes in being there is to survey and understand nature, which seems pretty close to scientific study, which I believe is exempt from trail fees. Shouldn't this exempt me and many others?

I'm an "outdoorsman," but no longer a "sportsman" in the usual sense. I used to hunt and fish, but I've come to realize hunting today is less about putting meat on the table, or learning and practicing survival skills, than about using modern predator technology for "sport." Fishing in stocked streams is rather like going to a commercial fish pond. My idea of sport involves some personal risks, including rock climbing and kayaking.

In my fantasies of a just economic system, where people are wealthy in proportion to their real and potential contributions to society, I might support a wilderness fee program based on the amount of strictly recreational and comfort equipment one carries into the woods, perhaps mostly by weight, if it were possible to administer it efficiently.

Dan Robinson


Bernard Nickerson's rather disturbing letter regarding the Pledge of Allegiance (7/18) is a good example of what's wrong with our nation right now. The solution to our problems? Defend your beliefs by insulting the beliefs of others. But isn't that what started this whole mess in the first place? I say we declare "contradiction" our latest epidemic.

Alisha Mobley

I'm dismayed by your new column "Treadmarks." Jim Motavalli and E The Environmental Magazine do a great disservice to the environment by advocating for consumer-heavy solutions to the planet's ills. His "green car" opinions are a perfect example. We will not improve our lives, our communities or our environment with "cleaner" cars. Personal vehicles, highways, parking lots, gas stations, etc. are a huge problem in our lives that "cleaner cars" will not fix. We need to abolish cars and everything that comes with them: drunk drivers, roadkill, air pollution, global climate change, dependence on foreign oil, drilling in the Arctic (or the Rockies!), etc.

E Magazine is full of similar consumer-heavy "solutions." Buying more stuff will not clean up the environment or get us out of the damaged environment we now live in. Stopping buying stuff will. While we are at it, campaigns with a consumer-boycott element can be quite effective. Don't like Hyundai? Don't buy Hyundai. Boycott Sony, E Magazine, Umpqua Bank, The Oregonian, McDonalds, Henry's "beer," stores in the Broadway/Charnelton Project, etc. (Too bad we as consumers cannot boycott Wildish, Eugene Sand & Gravel, Chambers Construction, Papé Equipment, Mayor Torrey, etc.)

Jim Flynn

Gee, George Orwell would be proud of John Ashcroft for creating the perfect enemy. You can't see them, but they're always there, waiting to strike, just like in 1984.

The enemy is here, all right, "hunkered down" in "undisclosed locations" and in corporate boardrooms, plotting the next strike: more suppression and manipulation of free speech via media and communications system takeovers, more slave labor jobs in third-world countries while we flip burgers and park cars for the bourgeoisie here, more wholesale environmental rape, more police and military, more prisons.

Oh, and, at the appropriate intervals, more planned "security lapses" so that cretins with Middle Eastern connections can blow up skyscrapers and plant "dirty" radiation bombs on buses and kill innocent people, so we'll hand over our rights.

They're here, all right — they stole the 2000 election in Florida.

Michael Anderson


Because it has been pretty much proven that our sweet government now exists only to serve itself, I decided, what the hell, why not join them?

Because the cigarette tax seeks to stop people from smoking, this means that the nature of the public-funded system is digressive and will disappear. I wish to be the first to stabilize this ever increasing stealth sales tax by proposing the first "non-smoker" cigarette tax where the next five people to buy at any given cash register, after cigarettes are purchased, have to pay a 5 percent excise tax off their total transaction. Eventually government employees can take public funds and buy the necessary volume of cigarettes to keep the fund going forever. They can even smoke them.

Because all public school children are currently viewed by government as a private company marketing resource, let me be the first to propose mandatory teen organ donations so that all those old men in government are guaranteed fresh healthy organ transplants. Let's also make giving blood for sale to private companies a class requirement. If any young man or woman wishes to sell one of their double organs, the money would be put into a government account for their college fees, letting the government take the interest payment off the top as a service fee.

I'm sure there are a million other things that we can think of (a registered anarchist fee, pedestrian tax, household fresh air tax, homosexual/homophobic registered fee and many others). Let me know if anyone needs more of them.

Daniel J. Moore


As noted in Melissa Lewis' excellent July 4th column, the latest White House Office of National Drug Control Policy ad campaign seeks to link the war on drugs to the war on terrorism. International terrorists have caught on to something Al Capone learned in the 1920s during alcohol prohibition: There are enormous profits to be made on the black market.

The illicit drug of choice in America is domestically grown marijuana, not Afghan heroin or Colombian cocaine. Drug war bureaucrats know this. So do teenagers. Hysterical anti-drug claims have zero credibility among skeptical youth. The government's drug-terror ads are a shameless attempt to garner support for a flawed drug war 74 percent of Americans feel is a lost cause. At the expense of national unity, drug warriors are trying to convince Americans who consider substance abuse a public health issue that many of their friends and family members are threats to national security.

The opportunistic drug-terror rhetoric may lead Americans to mistakenly conclude that marijuana smokers are somehow responsible for Sept. 11th. That's likely no accident. Taxing and regulating marijuana would render the drug war obsolete. As long as marijuana remains illegal and distributed by organized crime, consumers will continue to come into contact with hard drugs like cocaine and heroin. Naturally, the government bureaucrats whose jobs depend on never-ending drug war prefer to blame the plant itself for the alleged "gateway" to hard drugs.

Robert Sharpe, MPA
Drug Policy Alliance,
Washington, D.C.


President Bush has called for vigilant prosecution of corporate criminals to ensure that investors and workers maintain the highest confidence in American business. The president is working to protect small investors with tough new jail sentences for executives who deceive shareholders and the creation of a task force to make sure corporate criminals are prosecuted.

While the president offers constructive solutions, Democrats are trying to score election year, political points and the American people are seeing through their tactics. The Manchester Union Leader writes that "Democrats are obviously more concerned about scoring cheap political points than in quickly crafting legislation to tighten laws governing corporate behavior." The Washington Post calls the Democrat attacks on President Bush a "distraction."

The hypocritical and callous political games being played by the Democrats has now been exposed by recent news reports that say House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt wants to keep corporate scandals "on the political radar screen until November." While the American people continue to see the money invested for their children's education and their future retirement dwindle due to corporate bad actors, Democrats are more concerned with their own political gain. Bush has taken decisive action to prosecute and punish corporate criminals. The Republican leadership in the House passed corporate reform in April. It is time for Democrats to put their partisan, stonewalling aside and help pass real corporate reform.

The fact is the U.S. economy is the strongest it's been in the last nine years. That should tell you something about the failed leadership under Clinton, and the the responsible, trusted leadership we have under Bush.

John F. Marten

LETTERS POLICY: We welcome letters on all topics and will print as many as space allows. Please limit length to 250 words, keep submissions to once a month, and include your address and phone number. E-mail to, fax to 484-4044, or mail to 1251 Lincoln, Eugene 97401.



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