BEVERLY — One of the dwindling number of bottle-and-can redemption centers in the state is closing.

Beverly Bottle & Can Return, a business on West Dane Street in Beverly where you can collect 5-cent deposits for your recyclable bottles and cans, will shut down at the end of the month after 20 years in operation, owner Mike Kessel said.

Kessel said the business is closing because he can no longer make enough money off the 3 1/4 cents that he is paid by distributors for every bottle and can.

"After about 20 years I'm just fed up," Kessel said. "I had a nice business going, but if you can't make money . . ."

Redemption centers began cropping up in Massachusetts after the state enacted the bottle bill in 1982. The bill established a 5-cent deposit on carbonated beverage bottles and cans as an incentive for consumers to return used containers. The companies that produce those cans and bottles, like Coca-Cola and Budweiser, re-pay Kessel his 5 cents, plus a handling fee of 3 1/4 cents.

Kessel said the increase in the handling fee, which had been 2 1/4 cents, was not enough, and is still short of the 4 cents that many states pay. Now, at age 66 and with his truck recently breaking down, he said it's time to close up shop.

The work requires sorting the bottles and cans by hand and trucking them to processing centers in Danvers, Worcester and New Bedford. Kessel said he has relied on the help of his father-in-law and mother-in-law, who are in their late 70s, but the work is getting to be too much. 

As he stood among the towering piles of cans and bottles stuffed into plastic bags in his rented warehouse space in the Clemenzi Industrial Park, Kessel said the closing will hurt low-income people who depend on the money they receive for bringing in containers.

"A lot of people depend on this," Kessell said. "Working mothers, poor, elderly. They come in with $5 to $8 (worth of containers) and they need the money. Those are the people I feel bad for."

Janet Domenitz, executive director of MASSPIRG, said redemption centers like the one in Beverly are the victims of the defeat of an expanded bottle bill, which was on the ballot in 2014 and lost at the polls. The bill would have expanded the types of redeemable containers to include bottled water, fruit drinks, iced tea and sports drinks, rather than just the carbonated beverages that were popular when the original bottle bill passed in the 1980s. The expanded bill was opposed by bottlers and supermarkets.

"Redemption centers have been closing for the last decade and it's an absolute sin," Domenitz said. "They should be a thriving part of the economy. I'm heartbroken for that family in Beverly. They used to come to the hearings and say we need to expand the bottle bill."

A 2013 study by the Massachusetts Sierra Club and MASSPIRG said that more than half of the state's 200 redemption centers had closed. A spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection said there were 55 independent redemption centers in the state as of January 2019, and that number is expected to drop in 2020.

Containers can also be returned to retailers, but they are only required to accept the type of products that they sell, whereas redemption centers accept everything that has a deposit. Kessel said he is sending his customers to the nearest redemption center, which is in Peabody. The only other redemption centers on the North Shore are in Gloucester and Lynn, according to information from the Department of Environmental Protection.

"What am I going to do, leave them out in the cold?," Kessel said of his customers. "They're nice people."

Gigi Conners, one of Kessel's longtime customers, stopped by the other day to say goodbye. Conners said she and her children came to Beverly Bottle & Can Return not just to get the deposit money but also to see Kessel.

"I used to recycle just to come here because Mike has always been really nice," she said. "He would make a quick little quip and get me to smile. It's going to tear my heart out to see him close."

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2535 or pleighton@salemnews.com

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