Cans and bottles go in to the rumbling, clanking machines. Out come tickets tabulating the total number of containers, worth 5 cents each.
Recycling machines have been well utilized since they were installed earlier this year at the store.
A spokesman for the Pleasanton, Calif.-based corporation said that so-called reverse vending machines have become increasingly common at Oregon grocery stores after state bottle legislation expanded to include water bottles.
“Really, we just saw a significant increase in volume,” said Safeway public affairs director Dan Floyd.
Before this year’s remodel of Reedsport Safeway, employees counted returned containers by hand. That means bottles were sometimes placed in grocery carts, and then pushed or dragged through the building to a back storage area.
“Any time someone puts containers into their cart and pushes that through the store, we run the risk of being unsanitary,” Floyd said. He said part of the company’s objective when it started remodeling Safeway stores was to move can and bottle sorting outside. Sorting outside leaves more room inside for merchandise, Floyd said. It also frees up employees.
The state Legislature expanded Oregon’s bottle bill in 2007 to include water and flavored water containers. The bill also removed limits on what brand beverage containers stores could accept. That means Safeway refunds the deposit paid on competing store-brand bottles. “We redeem more than what we sell,” Floyd said.
Bottle return provides a profitable business for third-party recyclers. Safeway in Oregon is part of a co-op recycling service that provides recycling machines and takes away the crushed materials.
Floyd did not say if the reverse vending machines at Reedsport Safeway has increased the number of bottles this store receives. He did say most stores see more people returning containers when machines are installed. Judging by the amount of time each day the machines are being used, however, store empoyees and shoppers feel returns must be way up.
Under state law, businesses accepting cans and recyclable bottles only have to accept 144 containers from each customer each day. But Safeway, as a general rule, does not turn customers away.
“We try not to,” Floyd said. “I don’t want to encourage people to make us a recycling center, but we do try to accommodate our loyal customers and nonprofits.”
But considering the issue of improved sanitation, Floyd said, reverse vending machines are definitely an improvement. “By not having that employee doing hand sorting, there certainly is a business advantage for us and the customer,” he said.
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