Bottle redemption centers seek new handling fees

By LISA CAPOBIANCO
STAFF WRITER
With the 2016 Legislative Session scheduled to begin on Feb. 3, owners of local independent redemption centers hope to persuade state lawmakers to increase their handling fees for recycled bottles and cans.
Currently, the state mandated handling fee, 1.5 cents per bottle or can, has not increased in 35 years. In states like New York, Massachusetts and Vermont, the handling fee for independent redemption centers are between 3.5 and 4 cents. Connecticut is one of ten states to have a bottle bill, which was implemented here in 1980. The last time the Bottle Bill was updated was in 2009, when water bottles were added.
The five-cent deposit consumers pay when buying beverages is separate from the handling fee.
Lori Beam, the owner of Green Planet Redemption Center in Bristol, has seen the kind of
impact the handling fee has made on her business. From rent to utilities to insurance and wages, Beam’s business has seen all of her business’s expenses increase over the years. She hopes to see the handling fee increase to 3.5 cents.
“Every expense I have has gone up over the years,” said Beam, who has owned and operated Green Planet since 2006.
If the handling fee remains stagnant, said Beam, she may have to close her business.
In an effort to see a change, Beam started a petition drive two months ago, which has over 3,000 signatures to date. She also wrote a letter to her state representatives and state senator.
Through the petition and the letter, Beam said she hopes to raise more awareness.
“We need to tell the legislature something needs to be done if places like mine are going to stay in business,” said Beam, adding how customers have shown an outpour of support. “This is my livelihood. This is how I make a living.”
State Representative Whit Betts (R-Bristol, Plymouth, Terryville) recently visited Green Planet to learn more about the situation that local redemption centers are facing right now. Betts is looking into this issue more deeply to determine how and why the handling fee has not changed for so long. He has contacted the Connecticut General Assembly’s Environment Committee to obtain more background information.
“Redemption centers have been a huge support for nonprofits doing fundraising,” said Betts, adding how this issue has been raised at the state level in the past. “Depending on what the answers are [from the Environment Committee], I’m inclined to introduce a proposal.”
Located at 370 Riverside Avenue, Green Planet serves countless individuals and organizations from Bristol and other surrounding communities, such as Plainville. From animal shelters to Boy Scouts to church groups, groups and organizations from all walks have life have turned to Green Planet for their bottle and can drives to fundraise.
In fall 2013, Beam moved her business from a 1,800 square foot building to a 4,000 square foot building on Riverside Avenue to better serve her customers. Open Monday through Saturday, Green Planet has 24 recycling machines and four employees to handle customer service.
“I’m here for the people. We do a lot of fundraising,” said Beam, adding how she enjoys meeting new people on a daily basis. “I love this job and I love helping people.”
Like Beam, Amanda and Mike Pianka, owners of M&M Redemption Center in Wallingford, also started a petition drive, which currently has over 4,000 signatures from customers and other members of the community.
They also have been in touch with State Representative Mary Mushinsky (D-Wallingford) since last summer.
If the handling fee does not increase, M&M could end up closing its doors too.
“We’re tired of struggling, and we just want to get paid equally,” said Amanda Pianka, adding how she has seen many of her business’s expenses increase over the years. “There’s such a need for redemption centers.”
Like Green Planet, M&M Redemption Center has served a variety of local organizations and civic groups that go there for can and bottle drives. In addition, customers recycle there as a source of income. Amanda Pianka said one of her customers uses the money from redeeming cans and bottles to pay her electric bill every month, while another uses the money to buy meat.
“We have a lot of senior citizens who come in,” she added. “We do a lot of fundraising with all kinds of groups.”
Amanda Pianka said she feel confident that bringing up the issue now will make a difference, despite the uncertainty when the handling fees for independent redemption centers would increase.
“We are all struggling,” said Amanda Pianka, adding that private redemption centers are dwindling down in the state. “We’re privately owned, but the state mandates how much we can make.”
“I [have] a privately owned business, but my rates and my income is mandated by the state,” added Beam. “It’s time that Connecticut recognizes that 35 years is a long time for a business to operate on the same fees.”
For more information, visit www.bottlebill.org/. –