Michigan supermarkets and convenience stores can start once again accepting bottle and can returns for recycling, effective immediately, according to state officials. The deadline for retailers with return machines to resume activity is June 15, but many Michigan retailers have begun this week.
Meijer, the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based operator of about 120 stores in the state, announced Friday that it will begin accepting beverage containers for return on Monday, June 15 at its Michigan stores after temporarily discontinuing returns in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. Meijer operates a total of 248 stores in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Wisconsin.
“These last few months have posed numerous challenges, but we appreciate the patience of all our customers and team members as we navigated through them together,” said Todd Weer, Meijer senior vice president of stores. “We know there is an abundance of beverage containers waiting to be recycled, so we’re asking all of our customers to please be patient and respectful toward each other as we deal with a volume of returnable containers that we’ve never seen before.”
Bottle and can return had been put on hold since late March, when an emergency order by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer stopped redemption at supermarkets and other stores because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Whitmer's "Stay Home, Stay Safe" executive order March 23 declared that while grocery and convenience stores would remain open, bottle return services within them were not considered critical infrastructure. Large store chains and retailers associations had appealed to stop bottle and can redemption to help protect their employees from COVID-19.
Currently, there is an estimated $65 million in unreturned beverage containers in Michigan, according to Meijer. “Retailers will need to take additional action around sanitization and social distancing to accommodate the expected return of large quantities of bottles and cans that have been stockpiled during the pandemic,” the company said in a statement.
SpartanNash also announced it will reopen bottle return areas in Family Fare, D&W Fresh Market, Martin’s Super Markets, VG’s, Forest Hills Foods and ValuLand stores throughout Michigan on Mon., June 15. Bottle return areas will be open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, and bottle returns will be limited to $25 per person per day. If the bottle return bins reach capacity, the bottle return area will close for the day.
“Many of our customers have been saving their cans and bottles for the past several months, and we are ready to reopen our bottle return areas in a way that ensures the safety of our store guests and associates,” SpartanNash executive vice president and general manager, corporate retail Tom Swanson said. “We appreciate our customers’ patience as we prepared for this reopening date, as well as their compliance with the adjusted experience as they clean out their garages and recycling bins.”
As bottle returns reopen on June 15, all participating SpartanNash stores will have signage displayed that helps customers adhere to social distancing guidelines and store capacity limits. Due to space limitations, only one customer will be allowed in the bottle return area at a time.
In compliance with SpartanNash’s COVID-19 safety and sanitation procedures, store associates will also wear gloves and face masks, and the bottle return area will be cleaned every 30 minutes.
“As we reopen our bottle return areas, we know that many are ready and excited to bring back their can and bottle returns, and we want to ensure it is a positive and safe experience,” Swanson said. “We ask that customers wait to bring back their cans if possible, as we believe the demand to return cans and bottles is high, which may result in long lines at the beginning of implementation of the governor’s phased reopening plan.”
At stores where the bottle return is located in the back of the store or where bottle returns are handled over the counter, the bottle return areas will remain temporarily closed to ensure the safety of customers and associates, in compliance with the governor’s phased reopening plan. SpartanNash will continue to follow the governor’s guidance and will reopen additional bottle return areas when it is safe to do so.
The number of unredeemed cans and bottles grows by 70 million a week, Tom Emmerich, chief operating officer of Schupan & Sons Recycling, told the Detroit Free Press.
Ten U.S. states have bottle and can deposit programs: Michigan, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, and Vermont. Amid COVID-19, every state has allowed retailers or collection facilities the right to limit or stop bottle and can returns without penalty, and some states reduced the number of collection sites.
The Detroit Free Press reported that Michigan returned more than 90% of its deposit bottles and cans for recycling every year until 2018, when the number dipped to 89%. Total refunds in Michigan have ranged from $346 million to $425 million per year since 2000, according to the Michigan Department of Treasury.
In anticipation of the return of bottle and can redemption, Meijer is asking its customers to also prepare appropriately and follow a few simple tips when returning bottles and cans to make the process as smooth as possible.
• Separate bottles and cans before coming to the store to help keep the flow of customers moving.
• Drain all cans and bottles and place them in clean bags/containers before coming to the store.
• Only bring beverage container brands that are sold at Meijer stores.
• Understand the maximum amount of returnable beverage containers is $25 each visit.
• Plan accordingly before arriving as the bottle return rooms will be busy.
• Please be patient, practice social distancing and wear a face covering.
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