How to get rid of your empties AND make a difference

Recycled bottles and cans

These days more than ever we’re feeling an emptiness, er, empties. In the state of Michigan we have been under Governor Whitmer’s “Stay home, stay safe” executive order since March 23rd. This has mandated that grocery and convenience stores remain open however their bottle return programs must be halted to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. For Michiganders who receive a 10 cent deposit for each bottle or can returned, this means an accumulation of beer and pop containers in garages, basements, closets and any other free storage in their homes. We’re hanging on to these empties because of our deposit we paid when we bought the beverages initially. Here’s how these deposits work:


When a retailer buys beverages from a distributor, a deposit is paid to the distributor for each container purchased. The consumer pays the deposit to the retailer when buying the beverage, and receives a refund when the empty container is returned to a supermarket or other redemption center. The distributor then reimburses the retailer or redemption center the deposit amount for each container, plus an additional handling fee in most states. Unredeemed deposits are either returned to the state, retained by distributors, or used for program administration.


In Michigan we’ve got the highest deposit at 10 cents per bottle/can which means residents don’t want to toss them to the curb just because bottle returns are closed. However with the stay at home order extended through at least May 28th, we’ll likely be running out of space to store our empties before we get a chance to return them. To complicate things, once returns open back up, the deluge of returns will likely overwhelm recyclers. Mark Schupan, principal at UBCR LLC, the company that collects, transports, and processes empty beverage containers for Michigan’s largest retailers, told the Detroit Free Press that “We're probably looking at 20 to 25 weeks to dig ourselves out of this issue.”

 Eric Seals, Detroit Free Press

So what do we do with our returnables? Sacrifice our space and sanity for an indefinite amount of time? Or can we put them to work for a better cause? Many communities and non-profits are now accepting returnables as donations. These include local schools, the Humane Society and others. Cleaning out your garage while benefitting a worthy cause? That’s a double whammy. Check your local listings for organizations accepting bottles and cans for donation and then load up the car!


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