In these trying times, we all seek redemption.

Clynk, the bottle and can redemption service based in South Portland, is requesting grace as well.

The company, which operates drop-off centers and kiosks at 49 Hannaford supermarkets in Maine, is asking customers to cooperate with a “3 Day OK” campaign by waiting three days after tying off a bag full of returnables before dropping it off.

Clynk is asking customers to signal compliance with its “3 Day OK” program by affixing ribbons, string or tape to bags before bringing them in. The South Portland company is taking the step based on U.S. CDC guidance that the coronavirus can remain viable for as long as three days on plastic surfaces. Photo courtesy of Clynk

“It’s basically a voluntary safety pledge,” said Bridget O’Brien, chief operating officer of Clynk, “to reduce the risk of surface-to-human contamination.”

O’Brien said the three-day grace period is based on guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding how long the coronavirus can persist on metal, glass and plastic surfaces. A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found the virus could remain viable on plastic surfaces for up to three days.

Although the primary mechanism for spreading the virus remains human interaction, O’Brien said the three-day program has been well received since it began in late March. Customers have been asked to signal “3 Day OK” compliance by affixing a ribbon, a string, or even a piece of tape to the bow knot at the top of the green plastic bag.

“We’re getting little messages on the bag,” O’Brien said. “People are grateful that we are still operational and that we care deeply about our employees.”

Clynk will still process bags without any added ties and has tweaked its sorting plants in South Portland and Scotia, New York, so that workers have more personal protective equipment and are spaced at least 9 feet apart, O’Brien said. They also take multiple breaks, wash hands frequently and there is now a 30-minute buffer between shifts “so we can better manage people coming in and out of the plant to maintain that level of social distancing,” she said.

O’Brien said redemption volume is at or above April of last year. She also acknowledged that an early run on Clynk bags has left some Hannaford locations without them.

“They’re making their way to the shelves,” she said. “For the most part, the bags are available.”

Concern over the coronavirus has prompted several Maine redemption centers, particularly those that sort by hand rather than by automation, to temporarily shut down. The South Portland Redemption Center plans to reopen Wednesday with shorter operating hours, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Madden Beverage & Redemption Center in Saco and West Bath Redemption are both closed until further notice, as is Gaia, also known as the Forest Avenue Redemption Center in Portland.

Peter Welch, manager and owner of Gaia, said he needed to make some changes to comply with spacing requirements and for the safety of customers and employees. His closed his operation at the beginning of April and had to lay off employees.

“We’re waiting to see if we’re going to get any funding from the (Payroll Protection Program),” Welch said. “We were approved but we never got any funding. Our goal is to get back open. We believe in recycling and bottle redemption. It’s an arena where we can’t be throwing this stuff away.”

In Greek mythology, Gaia is the ancestral mother of all life.

“We wanted to have some sort of a guiding principle,” Welch said. “If you take care of Mother Earth, things go well.”

Diana McKee, co-owner with her husband of Biddeford Bottle & Can Redemption Center, said they chose to remain open so folks could have a place to get money for food, even if only $5 or $6 for milk and bread.

“The first two weeks it was pretty slow,” she said. “I think people were pretty nervous. But after two weeks, people needed the money or they wanted to get the recyclables out of the house. This past week we have been doing middle-of-the-summer tourist volume.”

The Biddeford operation became fully automated in 2018.  McKee has gloves and sanitizer available for customers and adjusted her recycling machines to be touch free. Receipts are printed without need of a prompt.

“We’re a pretty clean redemption center,” said McKee, describing walls adorned with murals of forests and rivers. “We want people to (remember) they’re keeping our planet clean and green.”


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