March 4, 2010

CLYNK's customers complain of changes

JOHN RICHARDSON

— By

Staff Writer

CLYNK, a popular bottle and can redemption service based in South Portland, is in hot water with customers, and potentially with state officials, after cutting its staff and reorganizing its operation this month.

The company's chief executive met Friday with officials from the Department of Agriculture and the Attorney General's Office to discuss customers' complaints and whether the new collection system meets the state's licensing standards for redemption agencies.

CLYNK, which collects bottles and cans at 24 Hannaford supermarkets in Maine, laid off about 50 part-time workers who were stationed at the drop-off sites to help customers and sign up new ones.

Its chief executive officer said at the time that the company would contract with Hannaford to sign up new customers, instead of employing people who often had little to do because most customers simply dropped off their bags.

CLYNK customers fill individually coded bags with returnables, and the company electronically credits their accounts with the value of the deposits. New customers get 10 free bags, then pay 15 cents apiece for additional ones.

Until this month, CLYNK employees at most locations redeemed limited numbers of returnables on the spot for customers who didn't have accounts or bags. Now, the company serves only account holders.

Some customers didn't like the changes and complained to officials with the state, which licenses redemption companies under the bottle law.

''In review, it looks like there could be some problems with the way they set up the (business) model,'' said Hal Prince, director of the Department of Agriculture's Division of Quality Assurance and Regulations.

The agency sent CLYNK a letter last week saying its new system could be ''inconsistent'' with licensing rules, which led to Friday's meeting.

Prince said it's still not clear whether CLYNK meets the state's standards, or whether it will have to modify its service to keep its license.

Clayton Kyle, CLYNK's chief executive, said the core issue appears to be that all customers must now set up accounts and, eventually, pay for bags. The vast majority of customers already had accounts, and it wasn't cost-effective to do on-the-spot redemptions, he said.

''The overwhelming response to CLYNK has been that customers like this system,'' Kyle said. ''We will determine what's the best thing and we will obviously comply with the law. We are absolutely confident that there is a way to work this out.''

Prince said discussions with the company will continue and there is no immediate plan to suspend CLYNK's license.

''What we're trying to do is work with everyone and ensure that the consumers are served, the redemption center is served and Hannaford is served, and everyone is following not only the spirit but the letter of the law,'' Prince said. ''They're operating now and the consumers are not happy. We're just looking for solutions.''

CLYNK began two years ago as a new way for Hannaford consumers to redeem bottles and cans. Kyle said it continues to add account holders and plans to expand into more Hannaford stores.

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

jrichardson@pressherald.com

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