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Plastic bottle buyback operations resume in more states as US reopens

Massachusetts and New York have initially restarted their container deposit programs, following an earlier move by Connecticut, after suspending operations in mid-March on coronavirus-related safety concerns, with Michigan soon to follow.

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In Massachusetts, reverse vending machines reopened on June 5 and enforcements of redemption requirements will resume at retailers on June 19, the state Department of Environmental Protection has said.

New York, where container redemption was considered an essential service throughout the pandemic, had relaxed retailer enforcements at facilities facing staffing issues. This meant retailers were not in violation of state law for turning away residential recyclables at drop-off locations. However, the state Department of Environmental Conservation announced that all redemption sites at supermarkets and big-box stores must have reopened by June 3.

Michigan will also begin the first phase of its reopening process on June 15, by allowing retailers to accept bottle and can returns exclusively by RVMs to limit person-to-person contact.

Ten states in the US currently have "bottle bills," or mandatory container buyback programs. Since the beginning of the pandemic, nine of these 10 states -- California, Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Oregon, New York. and Vermont -- had temporarily halted or severely limited buyback operations.

By the end of June, residents in these three states will once again be able to drop off their collected recyclables for deposit value -- usually 5 cents or 10 cents -- but now under certain new criteria. These include limitations on the amount of items allowed at one time, requirements that all cans and bottles must be emptied and rinsed before returning, and strict enforcements of social-distancing policies.

For example, the Michigan Treasury Department stressed that during the initial phase "retailers must limit the volume of weekly returned beverage containers to no more than 140% of their average weekly collection volume" for April and May 2019.