In mid-to-late March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic led most U.S. deposit states and some Canadian provinces to temporarily suspend enforcement actions on retailers who stopped conducting bottle and can redemption during the outbreak. Generally speaking, these announcements did not affect redemption centers, who were free to remain open, or to close their doors in the interests of safety if they so chose. However, shelter-in-place orders in most U.S. states had the effect of discouraging consumers from redeeming their bottles and cans even at redemption centers that remained open. Both the shelter-in-place orders and the retail enforcement suspensions began to lift in late May and early June 2020. With the spike in Covid-19 infections in late fall 2020, some states re-instituted their enforcement suspensions. State-specific details are below.
If you still feel uncomfortable going out to redeem your containers, please rinse and save them for later redemption.
Announcements for Selected U.S. Deposit States:
California: On April 22, an Executive Order was issued by Governor Newsom to waive the requirement that recycling centers (redemption centers) operate a minimum number of hours per week. The waiver is slated to last 60 days. Retailers also get a 60-day reprieve from taking back containers. See paragraphs 10 and 11 in Governor's Executive Order N-54-20, which direct the Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery to develop and issue guidelines by April 27. See: Guidance to Recycling Centers and Beverage Retailers (April 28). On June 22, the waiver of retail enforcement was extended for another 60 days, and the requirement for recycling centers to hold a minimum number of hours of operation was also temporarily suspended. See Governor's Executive Order (June 22). That extension expired on Aug. 21, 2020.
The State also issued a guidance sheet for grocers that discusses safe handling of recyclables and other things during the pandemic.
Additionally, there were reports of private companies temporarily shutting down their recycling activities voluntarily, among them: Waste Management in California temporarily closing several CRV "buy-back" centers that they operate: https://www.wm.com/weather-alert/california.jsp Edco had also temporarily closed a few CRV redemption centers: https://www.edcodisposal.com/signal-hill/where-do-i-take-it/signal-hill-edco-station.htm
Connecticut: Suspension of enforcement actions against retailers for failing to accept empty beverage containers for redemption. Effective Mar. 17 – 31 (see Official announcement by CT DEEP and Statement from Connecticut Citizens for the Environment). Extended to April 30 (personal communication with Edith Pestana, CT DEEP). Extended to May 20: DEEP is working with retailers and redemption centers to resume "limited" state-wide redemption at locations where services were suspended, and to plan for resuming full redemption services by June 3, 2020 (see DEEP announcement and DEEP May 6 press release).
Iowa: Suspension of regulatory provisions requiring dealers [retailers] to accept empty deposit beverage containers. Effective for duration of this disaster emergency. See Section 18 of the Governor’s Proclamation of Disaster Emergency (March 17). See also Section One Hundred Nineteen (119) of the Governor’s Proclamation of Disaster Emergency (April 27), which extended the suspension for the duration of the State of Emergency, originally slated to expire on May 27, 2020. Extended again indefinitely ("for the duration of this proclamation"); see section 124 of the Governor's proclamation of May 26, 2020. Extension continued "temporarily" with the reassurance that "Iowans and retailers should not expect that this suspension will be extended beyond July 25, 2020," and the permission for retailers to allow limited redemption sooner. See section 109 of Governor's proclamation of June 25, 2020. July 24 extension of state public health emergency does not include retailer bottle and can redemption: "that statutory requirement will resume on July 26, 2020." See July 24 press release.
Maine: Suspension of enforcement on retailers and redemption centers for failing to accept beverage containers; Effective Mar. 18 – 31, extended to April 30. Maine Recycling and Returnable Services (TOMRA) and CLYNK are both operating and picking up from redemption centers. See: Official announcement from Maine DEP and announcement from CLYNK.com. April 15 extension: personal communication with Scott Wilson, Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
Massachusetts: Suspension of enforcement of the requirements for retailers to accept beverage containers that have a deposit, effective immediately until further notice. See: Official announcement from the Mass. DEP and the Attorney General’s Office. Enforcement activities resumed in two phases: 1) Retailers using reverse vending machines (RVMs): June 5, 2020. 2) Retailers accepting containers over the counter: June 19, 2020. See: Official announcement from the MassDEP (May 29, 2020).
Michigan: Temporary requirement to suspend activities that are not necessary to sustain or protect life, defining bottle return as not an essential service or critical infrastructure. "There will be no change in the deposit collected at the time of purchase during this temporary suspension of bottle return services." See: Michigan Executive Order, No. 2020-21. On June 1, the MI Department of Treasury announced that a phased re-opening would begin on June 15. Phase 1 requires retailers to provide reverse vending machine (RVM) or front-of-store redemption while complying with state safety protocols; they may limit their hours or per person return volumes. See Phase 1 Treasury announcement here. Phase 2 will begin on October 5, 2020, requiring all retailers with RVMs to reopen their redemption facilities. Other redemption facilities operating with more face-to-face contact may reopen "at their discretion." See Phase 2 Treasury announcement here. Effective Oct. 15, MI expanded this requirement by mandating that all retailers with bottle and can return facilities - whether serviced by RVMs, staffed by employees or a combination of both - must resume the collection of returnables and refund customer deposits, while ensuring compliance with all state-mandated safety protocols to protect workers and the public. See Notice Regarding Michigan's Bottle Deposit Return Program.
New York: The DEC will not actively enforce violations at facilities unable to fulfill redemption operations due to resource restrictions during the ongoing COVID-19 response efforts. See: Official announcement from New York DEP. The resumption of enforcement was scheduled for no later than June 3, 2020. See: announcement from NY DEP (accessed 5/27/2020).
Oregon: Suspension of enforcement actions against retailers that choose not to redeem empty beverage containers covered under Oregon’s Bottle Bill. Originally ended March 31, 2020; extended through May 31. BottleDrop redemption centers and Express locations will continue to accept green and blue bags at certain locations. See: First official announcement from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC). See: Announcement of extension to April 30. See: Announcement of extension to May 31. See: OLCC discussion of phased re-opening (accessed 5/21/20). In July, the OLCC announced a redemption center re-opening plan that is tied to the State's general plan for re-opening businesses. Click here to see the OLCC list of redemption center opening dates as dictated by county phases. UPDATES: In mid-November, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission announced that it would again suspend enforcement on retailers who chose to temporily stop redeeeming deposit containers for the duration of the general "Statewide Freeze" meant to stop the spread of the virus. See OLCC press release (11/16/20). In early December, the OLCC announced that its non-enforcement posture would continue for retail stores in "high" and "extreme" risk zones, as defined by the Oregon Health Authority. The non-enforcement does not affect stores in "low" and "medium" risk zones, or Bottle Drop redemption centers. See OLCC press release (12/3/2020).
Vermont: Temporarily stopped pursuing enforcement action against retailers or redemption centers (RCs) who failed to redeem beverage containers subject to Vermont’s bottle bill law. Originally effective through April 30, 2020: see March 18 Official announcement from the VT Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). See April 20 update: Bottle Bill Enforcement Discretion Statement: extended "enforcement discretion" through duration of State of Emergency, contingent upon retailers and RCs scheduling a plan for coming back into compliance. On June 8, the Vermont DEC announced that it was rescinding the enforcement discretion, and said it "expects full compliance with the bottle bill after June 22, 2020."
No announcements for: Hawaii.
Announcements for Canadian Provinces:
New Brunswick: The cessation of redemption activities is implied by declaration of State of Emergency, Office of the Premier, "All businesses in retail sales will stop admitting patrons;" redemption activities are not among the exceptions to this prohibition.
Newfoundland and Labrador: Although beverage container redemption centers are not listed among businesses required to close, the Multi-Materials Stewardship Board (MMSB) has announced that all 56 Green Depots are closed to the public, citing "direction from the Provincial Government under the Public Health Protection and Promotion Act."
Ontario: Although the provincial government has classified recycling as an essential business, The Beer Store (the entity that both sells beer and provides deposit beverage container refunds) announced on March 18 that it was [voluntarily] temporarily reducing its store hours and halting its recycling operations at all locations across the province from March 19-31. On April 1, it announced that recycling operations would resume at a limited number of locations (71 out of 450), with reduced hours, beginning on April 6, citing a goal of having enough personal protective equipment for all employees. Also on April 1, The Financial Post reported that the shortage of refillable glass bottles being returned has caused beer brand owners to plan to shift a portion of their output from glass bottles to aluminum cans. On April 24, the Daily Hive reported that the Beer Store had resumed limited operations at more than 200 locations; that list can be found here.
Quebec: While "collection and sorting services for recyclable materials" is deemed an "essential service," and while "the risk of contamination remains low" [for container redemption], the province has asked consumers to keep used containers at home, and to claim the deposit refund when the situation has returned to normal. According to Recyc-Quebec's webpage, redemption activities across the province have been resuming gradually since May 18. They are scheduled to resume fully in two stages: all retailers in Quebec except Montreal on June 8, and Montreal on June 22. See Recyc-Quebec's May 28 press release. (Both pages accessed on 5/28/20, Google translation from the French.)
Saskatchewan: SARCAN closes all locations as of March 21, 2020 https://www.sarcan.ca/public/
No changes announced for: Alberta, British Columbia, other Canadian provinces.