EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
Impacts of COVID-19 emerge in just about every aspect of daily life. Its effects on recycling policies in Michigan appeared Thursday in Menominee.
EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard

Impacts of COVID-19 emerge in just about every aspect of daily life. Its effects on recycling policies in Michigan appeared Thursday in Menominee.

MARINETTE — COVID-19 ramifications even reach into policies regarding environmental stewardship and recycling. The trickle-down effects of those unseen impacts resulted in the recent — though temporary — suspension of the bottle and can redemption policy at retailers across the state, including Jack’s Fresh Market in Menominee. Under Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s March 23 Stay-at-Home order, the beverage container return policy is not considered an essential service. 

Through no fault of anyone, even the unseen and often presumptive parts and processes of life and functioning society fail to escape the consequences of the pandemic’s afflictions. Many of those afflictions stem from the unparalleled actions that the state and local governments, area businesses and residents are required to implement to help curb the virus spread and safeguard the Americans’ health … and lives in some cases.  

In the midst of the COVID-19 health crisis, when the Pepsi Co. informed Jack’s that it was deferring the pickup of empty beverage containers, the accumulating bags of refunded bottles and cans began to pile up. As the COVID-19 crisis grew, various other beer, wine and beverage distributors also followed suit, heavily impacting several state’s — including Michigan’s — container redemption programs.

According to Kathleen Ziminski, owner of Jack’s in Menominee and Marinette, retailers are required by law to accept empties from customers so that redemption of the 10-cent deposit can occur. 

Enacted in 1976, the Michigan Beverage Container Act obligates a dealer who regularly sells beverages for consumption off the premise, like Jack’s, must provide a convenient means whereby those beverage containers may be returned for the deposit refund in cash. Michigan is one of 10 U.S. states with a container deposit law on the books. 

By March 23, the pile of empties at Jack’s was taking the shape of a large hill and becoming a troublesome hazard. On that day, Zimininski admitted frustration. She explained that for a couple of weeks prior she had made several calls to the state and Jack’s legal representation, hoping to find some solutions as the empties continued to accumulate.

“Many other states have (already) suspended their returnable bottle,” she said on March 23. “So customers bring their dirty bottles here and we have to take them.” 

The next day, March 24, organizations that represent Michigan wholesalers and retailers informed vendors across the state to suspend their container return policies during the outbreak. The announcement, issued by the Midwest Independent Retailers Association, the Michigan Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association and the Michigan Retailers Association, mirrored actions in some of the 10 other states with similar laws, such as Massachusetts, Oregon and Connecticut. 

The decision came in the interest of public health and efforts to protect employees from potential exposures to the virus that causes COVID-19. 

“If somebody has the virus and you bring back a dirty can you are exposing our customers, our employees and you are exposing Pepsi and Coke employees,” Ziminski said.  

According to the latest information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, current research of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), suggests that the virus can survive for hours to days on surfaces, such as plastics. The length of that time depends on many factors such as the material of the surface and the environmental conditions. However, the CDC also reports that no documentation yet exists of transmission of the virus to a person after touching a contaminated surface. 

The CDC also reports that the virus spreads more generally through respiratory droplets than through contaminated surfaces and other objects. Regardless, the CDC advises that the best measures of prevention, in addition to social distancing, involve cleaning and disinfecting dirty surfaces around the household and in community settings and workspaces.

Ziminski pointed out that the temporary suspension of the bottle return policy fueled some frustration among customers hoping to drop off their bags of empty containers and re-pocket their 10-cent deposit on each one of those containers. She also admitted that when the stay-at-home ban eventually lifts and the public health emergency subsides, the backlog of bottles and cans customers seek to return may create somewhat of a bottleneck effect.

One Jack’s employee, Mary Fournier who works in shipping and receiving at the Menominee store, and who watched the pile of empties amass as the COVID-19 crisis evolved, welcomed the decision by the state and wholesalers to temporarily suspend the policy. 

“It’s just a matter of common sense and a safety issue,” Fournier said. “We (the employees) have to touch this stuff …. And it sits here until the vendors come to pick up the credits … and when they don’t pick it up …” 

So, from the inability to grab that morning cup Joe at one’s favorite convenience store to the expectation of that 10-cent redemption for every can of soda or other beverage one consumes, the inescapable ramifications of COVID-19 continue to surface everywhere.

Regardless of those minor, and major inconveniences, that everyone in the country now confronts, Ziminski sees some light at the end of the tunnel. 

“I feel like this will pass and I feel that the calmer we stay the better,” she said. “This is something we are going to be dealing with for months and I am optimistic we are going to be able to serve the community as much as possible.”

ON THE BRIGHTER SIDE

In the meantime, as you sit at home, battened down against the onslaught of endless COVID-19 coverage; and as you watch the recycle bin of bottles and cans overflow while the restless onset of extended cabin fever sinks in, turn to your creative side.

If you are looking for an activity to occupy the mind, the time and help dissolve worry, look to the contents of that recycling bin, a potpourri of crafting opportunity and backyard gift ideas lies in a single bottle. Just Google it.