Good news, Michigan — bottle return is returning


  • Karen McFarland /

If empty bottles and cans have taken over your hallways, basement stairs, porches, decks, tiny-ass foyers, car trunks, children's bedrooms, pantry, and/or bathtubs, you are not alone.

Since the coronavirus pandemic hit in March, it has upended day-to-day life and the mundane normalcy that came with it, including the ability to recycle cans and bottles, which we have now accumulated en masse, each one waiting to be awarded the Jellicle choice of getting processed, recycled, or crushed to little pieces at your neighborhood grocery store, liquor store, or pharmacy.

This, of course, means, you've likely missed out on some of the cash that comes along with first remembering to grab that sticky garbage bag filled with plastic, glass, and aluminum that has been attracting fruit flies and then dragging it to a return facility.

Anyway, according to the Michigan Department of Treasury, Michigan is sitting on an estimated $67 million in unreturned empties, which could grow to $80 million before June 15, which is when select stores are able to start accepting returns again.

The estimate, however, could be slightly off because of the current state of, well, everything. The numbers fail to acknowledge that the U.S. has been drinking like the world is ending since, well, world events started playing out like a series finale. (In April, market research firm Nielsen released some stats and found alcoholic beverage sales were up 55% as of the week of March 15-22 across the country. Spirits sales soared 75%, while beer saw a 66% jump and wine spiked 42% when compared to this time last year.)

Per Monday's news, retailers that have return machines in the front of the store or machines located in a different location, like an outdoor kiosk, are allowed to resume return services. However, these locations have some options as they begin to phase in return services. Retailers can designate special return hours, limit the number of operational machines, close the facility for cleaning as the store sees fit, and limit customers to a maximum of $25 in refunds per day.

While the daily dollar limit is optional, retailers must cap their weekly collections at 140% of what they averaged in April and May 2019. This only applies to what the Department of Treasury defines as the “initial phase.”

Things are about to get very sticky.

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