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Redmond teen’s Bottle Bill may pop up on ballot

Kelley Koeppen hopes people can soon get 5 cents for each empty water and pop bottle and can they return to designated redemption centers. - Samantha Pak, Redmond Reporter
Kelley Koeppen hopes people can soon get 5 cents for each empty water and pop bottle and can they return to designated redemption centers.
— image credit: Samantha Pak, Redmond Reporter

Kelley Koeppen was first bitten by the environmental bug in sixth grade when she attended the Environmental and Adventure School (EAS) in Kirkland.

While attending the Lake Washington School District (LWSD) choice school, she participated in a number of stewardship projects, which were part of the school’s curriculum. She helped clean up parks, mulch trails, prune blackberry bushes and more.

Since then, community service has become a part of who she is and recently, the Redmond High School (RHS) senior has taken things to the next level.

When Koeppen turned 18 a few weeks ago, she went online to do two things. First, she registered to vote. Second, she submitted an application for a state initiative to be put on the November ballot later this year that would encourage more people to recycle by giving them a 5-cent refund on empty water and pop bottles and pop cans they return to designated redemption centers.

The Washington Secretary of State office is still processing the application for Koeppen’s initiative — which she is calling the Washington Bottle Bill — but once it is approved, Koeppen said she will begin collecting signatures to get it on the ballot come November. She needs to collect 246,372 — or 8 percent of the number of people who voted for Gov. Jay Inslee — by July.

The first time Koeppen encountered the idea of receiving a refund from returning used bottles and cans was in middle school during a visit to her aunt and uncle’s house in Maine when the family stopped by a redemption center to turn in cans they had collected.

“I asked my mom, ‘Why don’t we have that in Washington?’” she said. “My mom said, ‘I don’t know, why don’t we?’”

The issue was driven home for Koeppen as she would see how many bottles and cans would be left on the ground after her soccer games.

“There’s a lot of waste left around,” she said.

Koeppen decided to do something about it after participating in a three-week pre-college program through Brown University two summers ago. The program took students to Costa Rica, where they studied ecology and sustainability. The trip also included a visit to EARTH University, which teaches students about sustainable development and encourages students to apply what they learn back home.

Koeppen’s post-program action plan became the Bottle Bill, but she couldn’t do anything about it until she turned 18. She said this made things a little more difficult as people can start filing for initiatives in February and her birthday isn’t until March.

Despite this challenge, Koeppen has not been deterred and hopes her peers feel the same.

“I just think it’s important that young people know they can make a difference, too,” she said.

Koeppen is doing her part to show young people can make a difference by enlisting the help of the Environmental Club at RHS.

Senior Atticus Liu, who is one of the club’s co-presidents, said they will be helping to spread the word about the Bottle Bill by getting a segment into the biweekly school news video.

“We’ll also try to come up with an efficient way for students to redeem their recyclables (in bulk for a more substantial refund) by the end of the school year,” he said. “If that means talking to administration to expand the recycling program here at Redmond High School, that’s a challenge we’d love to step up to.”

Liu said when Koeppen approached him for help with the Bottle Bill about two weeks ago, it was the first time he’d heard about it, but he was familiar with the concept of recycling bottles and cans for a refund.

“I personally like the effort, but more people need to hear about it,” he said. “I still see too many plastic bottles and tin cans in the garbage. I also believe making the refunds more convenient and accessible to people.”

Since Koeppen is working on a limited budget, she said she will focus her advertising efforts online through the bill’s website (www.washingtonbottlebill.org) and social media.

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