Michigan brings back bottle, can redemption after nearly three-month suspension

Michigan paused collection March 23 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

June 9, 2020

It’s been about 12 weeks since Michiganders have been able to redeem their cans and bottles for cash. The state shut down collection back in March to eliminate nonessential businesses from operating during the pandemic. Millions of bottles and cans have been piling up.

Scott Breen, the vice president of sustainability with the Can Manufacturers Institute, Washington, says about 70 million cans and bottles have gone unredeemed each week.

“Compared to the overall number of cans that are being recycled, that 70 million might sound small,” Breen says. “At the end of the day we need that material, manufacturers need it.”

About 40 percent to 45 percent of all recycled cans come from just the 10 states that do redemptions, so Breen says all this time without redemptions is making a dent in the supply. While manufacturers can use virgin aluminum, that isn’t nearly as beneficial. “If we have less beverage cans flowing through the system then that means we have less money flowing through the system and that means a less healthy recycling system overall.”

Michigan was unique in completely suspending collection; most other states just scaled back or had much shorter stoppages. Michigan is also unique in that all redemptions are 10 cents, only one other state, Oregon, has that same redemption rate. Most other states are 5 cents. Breen hopes people held onto their cans and bottles, instead of sending them to landfills, and can start to get redemptions again June 15.

According to the Michigan Department of Treasury, retailers with reverse vending machines (RVMs) or return facilities in front of their stores will be allowed to start redemptions first to ensure in-person contact is still relatively limited. People will also only be able to redeem up to $25 per day. After this initial phase, the state will reevaluate the plan for redemptions going forward.

Breen also says that because of Michigan’s 10-cent redemption, this is a form of income for many. Depriving people of that for 12 weeks, in a time where it’s challenging to find work, means many likely saved their cans and bottles for a time when they could redeem them once again. “It's more important than ever for people to have that option.”

For anyone with cans, unsure if they were worth saving all this time to redeem, Breen says they absolutely are. “It's like the one thing you can feel confident in that when you put it in the recycling bin this thing will get sorted appropriately and gets turned into a new can which is a recyclable material.”

Plastic and aluminum aren’t the only materials seeing a benefit from redemptions starting back up—glass will also see the benefits.

In a statement, Arlington, Virginia-based Glass Packaging Institute President Scott DeFife says redemption in Michigan is important because 80 percent of recycled material comes from bottle bill states.  

“Reopening bottle rooms with RVMs at the front of stores—while maintaining all social distance requirements—will help alleviate the burden on Michigan homes and benefit the hurting local and regional food and beverage supply-chain that relies on those redeemed bottles and cans for packaging needs,” DeFife says.