Massachusetts will begin requiring retailers to redeem customers’ 5 cent bottle and can deposits starting June 5, after two months of relaxed enforcement that allowed stores to stop handling empties during the height of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The state Department of Environmental Protection said reverse vending machines that accept redeemable containers at stores will have to be in operation June 5, while over-the-counter redemption must resume by June 19.
The state had permitted stores and redemption centers to continue accepting empties if they wanted to, but it had not required stores that sell redeemable bottles to accept returns — as it normally does — since late March. The measure was put in place to manage the threat of the coronavirus, and also to free up employees to focus on tasks such as keeping food and other essential items in stock.
Many retailers took the opportunity to suspend deposit redemption, forcing most customers to throw their bottles and cans away, put them in regular recycling, or hang onto them until redemption resumed on a broad scale.
Environmental advocates had been calling on the state to restart enforcement of the deposit law, concerned that more recyclable material was going into the waste stream. Some retailers and beverage distributors, meanwhile, have been concerned about the prospect of handling containers used in the midst of a pandemic.
The environment department said bottle redemption sites that reopen must require customers and employees to wear masks or face coverings, remind customers to practice social distancing, mark 6-foot spacing in lines on the floor, limit the occupancy of their facilities, and disinfect machines before they are emptied.
Retail locations may also limit customers to returning 120 deposit containers at a time. And customers should also wash out their bottles and cans ― retailers won’t be allowed to accept “containers with contaminants,” the state said.