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February 23, 2010


Henrietta recycler eases vexing chore

Bruce Zakett upends his garbage bag full of recyclables onto the table, and Stephanie Bernhardt immediately starts sorting.

Despite the mess of aluminum and plastic scattered across the table, Bernhardt, an employee of the Henrietta Redemption Center, jokes that “this is nothing,” as she quickly goes about counting each can and bottle. Zakett, meanwhile, stands and watches, and gets paid his 5-cents-per-container deposit inside a minute or two.

“You come here and drop the stuff in, and they take care of it,” said Zakett, a Henrietta resident who drops his recyclables at the redemption center about once a month. At the self-serve facility across town, “the machine breaks, and you wait around.”

Located behind Suburban Liquor on East Henrietta Road, the Henrietta Redemption Center takes in between 40,000 and 50,000 cans and bottles each week. Owner Nancy Freeland said that the business gets new customers every week, and they’re often confused about the protocol.

“When people come here for the first time, they kind of don’t know what to do,” said Freeland. “Once they go through it, they’re amazed by how easy it is. They just bring them here and plop them all on the table, and we do all the work for them.”

Plastic bins line the edge of the room, each with its own brand-specific label — Pepsi, Red Bull, Budweiser — and the center will accept any brand of can or bottle. It also offers a free pickup service for restaurants and office buildings. Customer service is key.

“We hire people who say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and ‘have a good day,’ and I think that brings people back,” said Freeland.

Freeland, who works full time as a nurse instructor at Strong Memorial Hospital, started the company with her husband, Tom, an electrician.

Her husband’s work required a lot of traveling and had grown spotty as the economy took a nosedive, so they decided to dip into their savings and open Henrietta Redemption Center in June.

They’re able to turn a profit because New York state requires distributors to provide redemption centers a 3.5-cent handling fee in addition to the 5-cent deposit for every can and bottle collected. That handling fee was raised from 2 cents in late 2009, and with the recently introduced 5-cent deposit on bottled water, Freeland believes the business has plenty of room for growth.

The center employs three other people, but Freeland and her husband spend a lot of time there themselves to keep overhead low. They’re hoping that the business can expand to the point where they could open a second redemption center in another area of town.

And if they can make the Earth a little cleaner in the meantime, all the better.

“There’s a lot of waste that could definitely be handled by returning your cans and bottles,” said Freeland. “People were complaining that we have to pay 5 cents for water bottles, but you do see the environmental perspective of that.”


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