But over the years, Oregon's trendsetting law has become eclipsed as other states have adopted broader deposit laws covering more containers.
Hoping to catch up and promote more recycling, the Oregon House on Thursday endorsed a measure adding water bottles to the deposit law. The bill, approved by the state Senate last month, is expected to win final House approval and be signed into law soon by Gov. Ted Kulongoski.
Backers hailed the bill as a major improvement that will keep millions of containers out of landfills.
Opponents argued that grocers should not be forced to accept an expansion that brings more empties into their stores, creating potential health problems caused by unsanitary containers.
Oregonians buy nearly 200 million bottles of water each year and state environmental officials estimate as many as 125 million of them are thrown away, instead of being recycled.
Under the bill, consumers would have to plunk down a 5-cent deposit on every bottle of water they buy, beginning in January 2009.
Other states with bottle laws are Vermont, Maine, Michigan, Iowa, Massachusetts, Delaware, New York, California and Hawaii. But only Maine and Hawaii require a nickel deposit on water bottles, according to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
"It's a huge move," Margie Alt, the group's executive director, said of Oregon's bottle law expansion. "It will keep recycling rates high and help get rid of a lot of litter that results from bottled water. We can only hope other states follow Oregon's actions."
At a Salem grocery store, shoppers asked about the prospect of having to pay a nickel deposit on every water bottle said they support the move.
"I'm all for it," said Rachel Wheeless, a 29-year-old mother of two, as she inserted plastic soda pop bottles into a machine that electronically reads bar codes on containers and refunds the deposits.
"To me, anything we can do to keep our planet healthy and green is a bonus," Wheeless said. "Anybody who complains about having to bring back cans and bottles to the store doesn't care about our planet."
The Northwest Grocery Association said it is considering an initiative for Oregon's November 2008 ballot that would create redemption centers where beverage containers could be taken.