How To Donate Container Deposit Refunds to Worthy Causes

Redeeming plastic bottle for deposit

Looking for a way to raise money for your favorite nonprofit or charity — without asking donors for money?

If you live in one of the roughly 60 states, provinces, or countries that collect container deposits on beverage cans and bottles, consider collecting and redeeming clean empties and donating the proceeds to worthy causes.

You’ll not just help the recipients, you’ll also increase these containers’ chances of being responsibly recycled, versus going into garbage landfills or fouling ground and water ecosystems.

Turning Container Deposit Refunds Into Donations

Globally, can and bottle deposit refunds provide millions of dollars to charities and nonprofits annually. Many deposit refund centers make it easy for you to donate your refunds to charities. They do this by methods ranging from collection envelopes at redemption centers to online accounts linked to “reverse vending machines” to systems like CYLINK used at collection centers in Iowa, Maine, New York, and Oregon in the U.S., and in New Brunswick, Canada.

Plus, there are one-time and ongoing efforts by individuals, schools, religious groups, scout troops, and others.

Finding Bottle Donation & Redemption Centers

Anyplace that collects can or bottle deposits will also have one or more redemption venues:

  • Retail stores, particularly beverage stores, often have machines into which you insert your returns for cash, store credit, or credit to an account. You may already shop at a store that has one of these. Some of these machines only accept containers for brands sold at the store.
  • Redemption centers, private or government-run, usually accept a wider variety of container brands than retail stores. They typically have a per-day/per-person limit, restricting the number of items, or the total amount you can redeem that day.
  • Bulk redemption, typically for cans, is helpful if you have large quantities. However, your redemption is typically calculated by weight, with the payment translating to as little as one cent per can, versus the container redemption of five cents or more.

Preparing to Donate

Step 1: Choose your worthy causes

If your favorite charity or nonprofit already has container deposit-redemption relationships — or you can drop off your empties for them to redeem — just follow their instructions.

If they don’t, look for redemption options that let you direct the money to them, pick another organization, or pick from the worthy causes that local collection/redemption centers support.

Alternatively, you can just redeem your containers in the most convenient location and send your refund to your favorite worthy cause.

Step 2: Identify where you’ll redeem your cans and bottles

Find local collection/redemption centers, “reverse vending machines,” other collection sites (such as nonprofits or schools), and/or local will-pick-up organizations.

Your local supermarket or beverage store is likely to redeem cans and bottles. If they don’t, ask them where you can take containers for your deposit refund. You can also find information about potential redemption locations via web search (including city, state, country sites), town/area bulletin boards, and mailing lists. Try asking at City Hall, your local library, schools, and civic or religious groups.

Step 3: Understand what they accept and how their program works

Do you need to take bottles to one location and cans to another? Are there brand or size limits?  What are their rules (maximum quantity per drop, day, etc.)? Do you need to set up an account or install a mobile app?  Do they offer tags or bags?

Step 4: Get set up for collecting your containers

Set up a place for collecting and sorting containers, for example, a box next to the kitchen trash or bags in the kitchen closet.

Confirm preparation preferences (for each redemption target), including:

  • Do you need to sort containers by material type (aluminum versus plastic versus glass)?
  • Do you need to empty and rinse containers that aren’t just water or seltzer?
  • Is including plastic bottle caps OK or even preferred?
  • Should containers be crushed or uncrushed?

If your household includes other people — or if you have occasional guests and other visitors — consider making signage listing container types to keep and these preparation steps.

Step 5: Start saving, redeeming, and donating!

Save your own empties and keep an eye out for additional sources, like schools and events. Periodically bring in your empties (or, where appropriate, schedule a pickup).

Additional Tips for Success

Based on my own efforts, I strongly urge you to make an in-person visit to whatever collection/redemption location(s) you intend to use. Many are informal and old-school, with little, old, inaccurate, or no online information, and may not return phone messages.

Here’s some additional deposit bottle collection fundraiser advice from Fundraiser Insight.

Depending upon your local container deposit redemption options, you may be able to turn your empty containers — and those from friends, businesses, and organizations — into funding for worthy causes. You’ll likely need a bit of patience and commitment. Be prepared for frustration both in locating venues and in processing the returns/redemptions. But it’s for a good cause.

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