Fewer consumers redeeming cans, bottles

Montanette Murphy

New York consumers still are cashing in on bottle and can redemptions, but the rate at which they are redeeming their deposits has dropped in the past 20 years.

The average redemption rate in New York since 1983-84 was 74 percent. But by 2004-05, the rate dropped to 66 percent.

One reason for the decline might be the change in products being sold.

“There are more beverage products on the market that are not redeemable for money, but they are recyclable,” said Lori O’Connell, a spokeswoman for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

In 1982, the “Bottle Bill” was passed in New York to allow consumers to redeem deposits on bottles and cans, O’Connell said. That bill made it possible for consumers to get money back on certain canned and bottled beverages, but it did not allow for deposits on noncarbonated beverages.

Now, legislation initiated by former Gov. Eliot Spitzer called the “Bigger, Better Bottle Bill” is pending.

That bill is designed to put all other beverage containers into the redeemable category to increase the rate of recycling. It has not become a law yet.

Back in 1982, noncarbonated drinks made up only a small fraction of the beverage market, O’Connell said. Today, those drinks make up more than 25 percent of the market.

Leroy Billins of Utica and his family recycle cans and bottles for a few reasons.

“Basically, just for the money,” Billins said. “Plus, my wife wants the cans out of the house before we get ants, and the kids like to do it.”

Despite the decline in redemption rates overall, redemption centers and a scrap metal company locally have seen a jump in the number of people turning in their recyclables for money.

Rich Reilly, owner of Reilly’s Dairy Inc., a redemption center and convenience store in Sauquoit, said he has seen an increase in the number of can and bottle returns.

“From what I visually see, we are busier this summer than last summer and the summer before,” Reilly said.

Reilly would not speculate on whether the jump is because people are trying to salvage as much money as possible in the rough economy, but he said he tries to make it as easy as possible for customers to get back their money.

“Customer accounts are up in our redemption center,” he said. “We get a variety of people: the average Joe with his weekly amount of $50 to $100, and we get large drops – some commercial drops, taverns and golf courses.

“We don’t take back everything. We only take back the deposit container for soda, beer and some energy drinks – anything with the New York state 5 cent deposit.”

Steven Kowalsky, president of Empire Recycling Corp., buys scrap metal – from copper tubing, brass plumbing fixtures to old swimming pools, which are made of either steel or aluminum, he said.

Kowalsky said he is paying 30 percent to 50 percent more for metal than what he paid 12 months ago.

Sharon Von Matt of Waterville donates her redeemable recyclables to a church that sends youths to camp.

In a financial pinch, she has considered the recyclables.

“I have a couple times when the money’s been tight,” she said. “But I figure it’s so much more important for the kids to be able to go to camp and learn.”

Montanette Murphy writes each Monday about personal finances. Got an idea? E-mail her at