Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie
SARAH Inc. Redemption Center (Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie)

EAST HAVEN, CT — Another one of the state’s bottle redemption centers will soon be closing, a trend that many see no sign of stopping since Connecticut has not increased its handling fees in more than three decades.

The redemption center that will be closing this time, at the end of September, is the one located on Foxon Road in East Haven. It’s a busy spot that was visited by dozens of customers bringing hundreds of bottles to reclaim their deposits during a press conference held outside the center Tuesday.

“I am disgusted to hear this,” Elizabeth Miller of Guilford said, as she was walking into the redemption center. “I come here at least once a month.”

Asked where she will be going instead, Miller shrugged, and said: “I have no idea to be honest with you.”

The closing of the East Haven center means dozens of jobs will be lost for people with disabilities, according to Lou Burch, Connecticut Program Director for The Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

Burch said annually 16 million bottles and cans were returned to the East Haven redemption center, operated by SARAH, Inc.

“This will be the fourth center to close in the last few years,” Burch, who was outside the redemption center Tuesday, said. “By my count that will bring us down to 21 redemption centers left operating in the entire state.”

But it’s not for a lack of trying.

“Despite our best efforts, we can’t make the redemption center work,” Pat Bourne, SARAH Inc. executive director, said. “The basic costs of our operations continue to go up while the handling fee we get paid to process the materials has remained the same for the past 30 years.”

Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie
Lou Burch, Connecticut Program Director for The Citizens Campaign for the Environment (Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie)

The group tried to get legislation passed this year to increase the handling fee for redemption centers, but the legislature failed to act.

“The decision to close the SARAH Redemption Center is difficult and in no way reflects on our employees and their efforts,” Bourne said. “We are proud of their hard work to try to make this enterprise successful. The fate of the SRC is ultimately due to circumstances beyond our control.”

Connecticut’s redemption rate of 1.5 cents for beer and malt beverage containers and 2 cents for water and soft drink containers hasn’t been updated since it was first implemented in the late 1970s.

A bill that would have raised handling fees to 2.5 cents and 3 cents, respectively, moving closer to the 3.5-cent and 4-cent rates required in other states, never made it to a vote in the House. A bill supported by the beverage industry that would have eliminated the bottle bill and would have created a 4 cent bottle recycling fee never made it to a vote in the Senate.

The issue and the battle is expected to continue during the next legislative session.

Burch said there are several reasons to increase the return rates — besides environmental ones.

“These redemption centers support hundreds of low income jobs across the state,” Burch said.

One worker at the East Haven center told this reporter he “couldn’t believe” that he would soon be out of job.

“Look at this place,” the worker who declined to be identified, said. “It is always jammed-packed in here.”

The beverage industry argues the environmental concerns for establishing the bottle bill have been eliminated over the years.

Kevin Dietly, a representative for the American Beverage Association with Northbridge Environmental Management Consultants, said back in April that most states don’t have a bottle bill and have much higher recycling rates than Connecticut.

Connecticut is one of 11 states that are “bottle bill” states where consumers can get back the small deposit they pay on bottles and cans at the time of purchase. It initially started in 1978 as an environmental initiative to get the empty containers off the streets.

Dietly argues a lot has changed in the world of recycling since 1978.

He compared the bottle bill to a “dusty old 35 mm camera.” He said technology has improved and curbside recycling is now single-stream recycling.

But Bourne believes the bottle bill is still relevant beyond the environment.

“Every nickel redeemed is turned into a paycheck for a SARAH supported worker. SARAH Recycles collects over 1 million donated bottles and cans annually,” Bourne said.

Bourne said it is important for people to know that the East Haven redemption center closing “will not affect SARAH Recycles.”

“The public will continue to see the SARAH Recycles collection bins throughout the community. We encourage you to continue to donate your bottles and cans and turn nickels into paychecks for the Sarah supported recycling crews,” Bourne said.

SARAH Inc. is a nonprofit organization that provides support to over 550 people in early intervention, employment, work training, community experience and customized individual and family supports. The money it collects from its recycling efforts, outside of the redemption center, will continue to support its mission.