Green Planet closes after Coca-Cola cracks down on redemption centers

By LISA CAPOBIANCO

STAFF WRITER

Just two months after being notified that Coca-Cola’s products would no longer be processed in its recycling machines, Green Planet Redemption Center closed its doors last week.

Lori Beam, the owner of Green Planet, made the announcement on her redemption center’s Facebook page last Tuesday. She could not be reached for further comment.

“To all my friends, family, loyal customers and many fundraising accounts, it is with deep regret that I make this post today,” said Beam in her Facebook post, thanking her customers and staff. “Green Planet has been faced to make a very difficult decision with regards to how we do business. Based on the impact of these changes, we can no longer provide the same valuable service as we have throughout the years. This decision was not made easily and I am heartbroken.”

For as long as Beam owned Green Planet, Coke products were always processed in her redemption center’s reverse vending machines (RVMs).Coke’s products also made up a large volume of redeemed bottles and cans at Green Planet.

In December, Green Planet (and two other Connecticut independent redemption centers) was notified that Coke’s products would no longer be accepted in its RVMS starting the first week of February. Coke’s products, however, would still be processed through RVMs located at supermarkets like Price Chopper and Shop Rite.

Green Planet was notified of this policy by Envipco, the company that Beam leased her RVMs from. Known for its patented RVMs and other recycling technology, Envipco has partnered with the beverage industry, retail industry, and major bottle manufacturers.

“They were notified by Coca-Cola that as of Feb. 1, they were to remove all of Coca-Cola products’ bar codes from the RVMs in their redemption centers,” said Beam in an interview with The Bristol Observer a week before Green Planet closed.

One option that Coke gave to privately owned redemption centers like Green Planet was to manually hand count, bag and sort its products, which another company would pick up, said Beam. Green Planet would then receive payment after the products are picked up and audited.

“What they’re asking us to do is take all of their products over the counter manually, count it, sort it…and then bag it and tag it and save it. Then this company will pick the product up, but we’ve been told we have to have a minimum of 200 to 300 bags before they’ll come to pick it up,” said Beam, adding how supermarkets only offer five to six RVMs. “I don’t have the staff to do that… [and] the storage space.”

When Beam contacted Coke about this new policy, she did not receive a direct explanation for why it was being enforced.

“The only reason that we were given was…‘it was Coke’s policy to not have their products go through RVMs in the redemption center setting,’” said Beam, adding how Coke would not release a copy of the policy when she inquired about it. “I’ve been in business for 10 years, and I’ve always been set up as a RVM store. The products have always gone through my machines.”

Beam also reached out to other agencies, including the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Edith Pestana, director of DEEP’s Environmental Justice Program, also did not receive an explanation for the policy when she contacted a Coke representa tive.

“We had never heard or seen in writing any policy of this nature. Coke’s representative indicated that it affected only privately owned redemption centers that use Reverse Vending Machines-and not supermarkets that use Reverse Vending Machines,” said Pestana.

Pestana, who reviewed Connecticut’s Bottle Bill statute and regulations with the Attorney General’s office, further added, “DEEP does not have jurisdiction on this matter. Perhaps it may fall under the Unfair Trade Practices Act regulated by the State of Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection.”

A week before Green Planet closed, Envipco put a proposal on the table for Coke to reverse the policy, but had not heard back from the company.

Michael Wellman, president of Container Collection Services at Envipco, said as of last Wednesday that it seemed as though Coke was not going to reconsider its policy, adding how Green Planet was an important customer.

“They were a very important customer of ours,” said Wellman, who previously told The Observer that he did not understand the business rationale behind Coke’s new policy. “It’s unfortunate.”

When The Observer initially reached out to Coca-Cola, Director of Public Affairs and Communica-tions Nicholas Martin could not make any additional comments about whether the company would reconsider its policy, but issued a statement.

Coca-Cola also could not be reached for further comment after Green Planet closed.

“After identifying suspicious activity on reverse vending machines (RVMs) at three Connecticut redemption centers, we have asked these businesses to manually sort containers so we may verify that our containers are being properly processed in accordance with Connecticut law,” said Martin in a statement. “While our internal evaluation of the data from RVMs is ongoing and the source of the activity is inconclusive at this time, such discrepancies were significant enough to warrant this change at this time. The change only impacts three redemption centers in the state, and people can still redeem Coca-Cola products at many other redemption centers or use RVMs located at grocery stores and other retail outlets.”

Martin further added, “Coca-Cola supports comprehensive recycling and invests heavily in solutions that will make recycling more convenient and cost effective. While we have concerns with inefficiencies and the potential to game the system in states with forced deposits like Connecticut, we fully comply with all regulations related to the deposit law. We will continue to monitor and address unusual redemption activity.”

In response, Beam said she was “confused and concerned” about that Coke issued a statement without “providing any facts or findings to back up its accusations of suspicious activity” in Green Planet’s machines.

“Our machines are monitored regularly and all volume is continually matched with meter readings in every machine,” said Beam. “I feel helpless as to why after 10-plus years of running a business with an outstanding reputation that I have been blindsided by this turn of events.”

Located at 370 Riverside Ave., Green Planet expanded into a 4,000 square foot building in fall 2013, serving customers with 24 recycling machines Monday through Saturday.

Green Planet also had over 100 fundraiser accounts with groups and organizations from all walks of life. These individuals and organizations from Bristol and other surrounding communities have turned to Green Planet for their bottle and can drives.

“Green Planet is a staple to the local community and an integral part of several hundred fundraiser accounts that rely on our unique service,” said Beam a day before Green Planet closed. “At the end of the day, it is the customer and Coca-Cola consumer that will be negatively affected as we will no longer be able to provide the hardworking efforts we have put forth in the past.”