New York's bottle bill was enacted in 1982 to boost...

New York's bottle bill was enacted in 1982 to boost recycling of glass, plastic and aluminum, as well as to reduce litter. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Can and bottle redemption sites at supermarkets, big-box stores and other locations, shuttered since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, must reopen Wednesday, state Department of Environmental Conservation officials said.

New Yorkers have continued to pay the 5-cent deposit when they purchase water, soda and beer in bottles and cans. But many of the machines they use to the return the containers and redeem the fee have been closed, due to concerns they might help spread COVID-19.

“As DEC has made clear to stakeholders, the redemption of containers is considered an essential service and is expected to continue,” the agency said in a statement. “While [the] DEC briefly relaxed active enforcement of violations at facilities unable to fulfill redemption operations due to temporary staffing limitations during the ongoing COVID-19 response efforts, we expect facilities across the state to take the necessary steps to resume redemption responsibilities and be in compliance once again no later than June 3.”

Stop & Shop officials said their stores will reopen redemption centers with new restrictions and bottle rooms closed for cleaning twice a day.

“Out of an abundance of caution and to ensure social distancing, Stop & Shop is limiting customer count at the bottle machines,” said Stefanie Shuman, external communications manager for Stop & Shop. “Depending on the size of the bottle room, only 1-2 customers may be able to process their redemptions at a time. There will be floor tape set up outside the bottle room to assist with queuing and social distancing. Customers are asked to wait in the designated area until it is their turn to enter the bottle room.”

New York’s bottle bill was enacted in 1982 to boost recycling of glass, plastic and aluminum, as well as to reduce litter. According to the DEC, it helped to recycle 5.1 billion plastic, glass and aluminum beverage containers totaling more than 246,000 tons in 2016.

For some struggling New Yorkers, who collect bottles and cans from parks and other sites, it is a vital source of income.

Despite being deemed an essential service during the pandemic, many stores put out notices that they temporarily halted all returns.

All Deposit redemption center in Brentwood has remained open during the pandemic and seen a large influx of customers, said Martin Naro of EvTek, which works with All Deposit on pickup and technology programs.

“We have been very strict from the beginning, requiring all employees and all customers to wear masks,” Naro said. “It is our responsibility to the community to stay open and offer services.”

One of those services is providing pickup to senior citizens who need the cash from bottle redemption but are sheltering at home to avoid exposure to the virus, Naro said.

Others are donating their bottles and cans rather than placing them out for municipal recycling pickup, where there is a chance they will be incinerated or landfilled.

Naro said some of the donations have been used to fund meals for front-line workers during the pandemic.

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