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Massachusetts bottle bill, returns, Shaw's, and a frustrated consumer

Posted by Mitch Lipka  July 11, 2012 10:00 AM

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Q. My complaint is a small one, as complaints go, but it is an aggravation, especially for people who live in the city. I went to the Huntington Avenue Shaw’s to redeem empty soda bottles, a chore, but something we do once in awhile. Not having a car, I stuffed as many as would fit into my backpack and two plastic bags that I lugged to the store. As I entered the store I saw that the return machines were marked with signs saying that they were closed.

I went to the customer service desk, waited in the line there, and was eventually told by the associate that she couldn’t help me, but to go to Register 10 to return the bottles. It was closed. Two employees at nearby register told me there was nothing they could do. I’ve had a hard time returning bottles there before. It was my understanding that retailers had to accept returns during business hours. Is Shaw’s in violation of the bottle bill?

Frank O’Dette, Boston

A. The rules of the state’s bottle redemption law require any retailer that collects deposits to redeem bottles during business hours. When a redemption machine fails or is turned off, the store has to accept the returns manually, says Joe Ferson, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, which enforces the law. Consumers who run into these problems can contact the DEP. Usually, Ferson says, the retailer will fix the problem after being contacted by the agency.

In this case, the Shaw’s location was having problems with its machine redemption area due to the volume of use. Problems with cleanliness and customer complaints about the condition of the redemption area led the store to a recent decision to shut it down, said Shaw’s spokesman Steve Sylven.

That forced the store to switch to an all manual system run from a single register. “Given this is a new process, it’s possible something may have slipped through the cracks, which sounds like it may be the case here,” Sylven said. “For that, I apologize for the inconvenience caused to this customer.”

When running into situations like this, when you’re pretty confident you’re being treated outside the law or usual policies, it’s usually worth asking for a manager.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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About the author

Mitch Lipka is one of America's leading consumer journalists and advocates. He is an expert in product safety, recalls, scams, and helping consumers get out of jams. He is a nationally known consumer columnist and runs TheConsumerChronicle.com. He lives in Worcester. You can find him on Facebook or reach him at ConsumerNews@Aol.com

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