Thursday, April 24, 2008

Cleaning Up by Cleaning Up

Spring has definitely sprung around here, as the thermometer and blooming daffodils will happily report. As I am feeling much better these days, I decided that I should start my spring-cleaning effort. One of my goals for this year is to de-clutter our house.

Yesterday, I figured I would start out slowly. If I set my goals too high right away, I may just get discouraged by the size of the project. So I determined to just tackle the refundable can and bottle situation and the piles of loose change.

Massachusetts is one of the few states with a bottle deposit (along with VT, ME, NY, OR, IA, CT HI, CA, DE and MI). It’s been in place here since 1982 and requires a $0.05 deposit on beverage cans and bottles. I vaguely remember having to return bottles in Illinois when I was very young but I don’t remember having to do that there since my parents started letting me see PG movies.* Over the winter, our cans and bottles piled up in containers in the garage and so I took them to the grocery store and fed them individually to a refundable can-eating machine. I stood there and fed almost 300 cans into this machine one-by-one. There seriously has to be a better way – because for all of that effort – the storing, the hauling and the feeding to the machine, I got a lousy credit of $14.90. The only difference between taking those cans to that machine for my money back and taking those cans to the town landfill and throwing them in the aluminum bin is the cash – they would end up in the same place in the end. Whatever – I was just glad to get them out of the garage and used the credit for some groceries.

The piles of loose change were a trip to collect and haul. I keep a jar behind a framed photo on the kitchen desk. If my husband or I have loose change that we throw down somewhere, I’m apt to throw it in that jar. Well, the jar was looking full so I went hunting for more change in the house so I would only have to make the one trip for a long while. I found quite a bit, actually. Who knew? I hauled a big canvas bag full of plastic bags of change to the Coinstar machine (sitting next to the refundable can-eating machine). When I was a kid, we used to haul change to the local bank and the bank would happily dump it all out in a coin counter and deposit the money to your account. Since that doesn’t happen anymore, Coinstar is my preferred choice for converting piles of coins into a more useful form. If you want cash back for your coins, they charge an 8.9% fee for their service. However, if you convert your coins to gift cards or eCertificates, there is no additional fee for you. I never convert my coins to cash as I think the 8.9% is pretty steep and as any gift card to Starbucks or e-certificate to Amazon.com isn’t going to last long in my house anyway. There are several other stores participating with Coinstar, but I usually only convert to those two. I walked out with a Starbuck’s gift card for $50.03 and an eCertificate for Amazon.com for $187.52. I’d say that the Coinstar exercise was much more rewarding than the refundable can exercise was.

In the end, I’d say I cleaned up all the way around.

*[There’s a new proposal in Illinois to add a bottle deposit there as well now. I really hope it doesn’t pass as, in my opinion, it’s a bigger pain than it’s worth. I take my garbage and recyclables to the town landfill, where they are separated and recycled properly already. Having a can and bottle deposit just adds a trip for me to a store where I can get a credit for my cans and bottles and necessitates the stores to have the dumb (always in need of maintenance) machines to accept the refundable containers and dole out the credits. It’s not like it’s a ton of cash either – so a person with more money than time will just skip the step of returning their refundables and toss the stuff in the trash. Anyone who says these bills are a wide-spread conservation effort doesn’t see the reality of the situation. These bills do, however, reduce litter, as collecting refundable containers has become a small industry for some people. It makes me wonder if the powers that be actually want you to go back for your deposits.]

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