Bottleneck at the Redemption Center

A business on Buffalo’s east side says it and others like it, are struggling to keep the lights on–through no fault of their own.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Clement Kwakye holds a Ph.D. in Leadership and Policy and is an Operations Director for two local medical offices.

However, more than a  year ago he started a side business.

“I’m very passionate about recycling,” said Kwakye, in explaining his decision to open a bottle and can redemption center, where customers could not only come in to redeem their beverage containers but also take advantage of a service he offers for home pickup.

He thought this would be of particular benefit to residents of the city’s east side who live near CK Bottles 4 Bucks on Bailey Avenue near the Kensington Expressway.

“The system that was in place wasn’t; very helpful for those who are elderly and also those who may not have transportation,” he said.

Lately, though, he’s been experiencing a problem that he says is also impacting smaller, mom-and-pop style redemption centers.

“It’s always like this, ” he said, as he took 2 on Your Side inside his store piled with bags of cans and bottles that have yet to be picked up by a recycling company which he says is obligated to do so every two weeks.

Inside the facility, it’s a family operation. On our recent visit, Kwakye’s wife and mother were busy behind a counter sorting and trying to keep pace with the ever-increasing number of bottles and cans. His eldest son also works in the operation when not at school, and Kwakye himself is busy there on weekends.

Most know that under New York’s now 40-year-old Bottle Bill, consumers pay a nickel deposit on certain beverage containers at the point of purchase, which they can then redeem to get the deposit back.

Many may not know that operations like that run by Kwakye then get 8.5 cents per container from a recycler, in this case, Western New York BICS in Lancaster.

“They’re supposed to come in and pick up our bags every 14 days,” said Kwakye. 

But he says in recent times the recycler hasn’t been coming in for four weeks and sometimes with a truck only able to pick up half of what’s accumulated.

This is creating a problem far beyond where to store all the unclaimed containers, according to Kwakye.

“We don’t get paid until the Friday after they pick up so now we are almost going five weeks without getting paid for the bottles we’ve collected and processed,” he said. “But we still have to pay our bills to keep our doors open and we’re still paying our customers for bringing in their bottles and cans.”

It got so bad that Kwakye purchased a van so that he could drop off what he could at Western New York BICS himself in an effort to sustain some of his cash flow.

“At least this way I can have some kind of cash flow to keep my business open but I shouldn’t have to do that,” he said.

 2 On Your Side reached out to Western New York BICS and its partner firm, Norwegian-based TOMRA, but we have not heard back.

Kwakye says he was told by the companies the problem is something plaguing everything from industries to school districts…a driver shortage.

Because the industry is regulated under the state’s Bottle Bill, he’s tried without success to enlist the aid of NYS Senator Tim Kennedy.

However, Erie County Legislature Chairperson April Baskin has lent a receptive heart and tells 2 On Your Side that she will be meeting with the county’s Department of Environment and Planning, which oversees environmental compliance, in hopes of helping Kwakye and other redemption centers if the issue persists.