by Larry Austin
Bottle Junction co-owner Ray Pabon watches as a customer returns 519 plastic and glass bottles and aluminum cans and then walks out the door $25.95 richer than when he walked in just minutes before.
"They just put three or four bags up there and they're done in less than five minutes," Pabon said. "Cash in hand and out the door."
The new Bottle Junction redemption center on Grand Island returns to customers the 5-cent deposit they pay on beverage bottles. The business, owned by Pabon and Gary Herman, celebrated a ribbon-cutting for its new Grand Island center on April 25. The Grand Island location, next to Mighty Taco in the Grand Island Plaza, is the third redemption center for Pabon and Herman, joining their center on Niagara Falls Boulevard in Wheatfield and the center on Colvin Boulevard in Tonawanda.
The owners opened the first Bottle Junction July 1, 2011, Herman said, and since then have added two more locations that provide a service in the marketplace because, as Pabon described it, many people were literally throwing their money away.
"You'd be surprised. Most people, because of the hassle of taking these things back to the stores, they throw their stuff out," Pabon said. "If they were to actually add up all the bottled water and soda and beer that they go through in a year, that's quite a bit of money."
"Guess what? That's a lot of gas in your tank, or whatever you need, and you can get it here."
The customer who returned 519 items stood and watched Bottle Junction employees sort and count all the bottles for him, instead of having to feed each bottle into a machine one at time as he would have done to get his nickel back at a grocery store. Customers don't even have to get their hands dirty, Pabon said.
"My people can get it done pretty fast," said Pabon. "And our employees, they don't break down."
The GI location has a handful of employees now, but that number will increase in the summer.
But how does Bottle Junction make money on bottle returns? One word: "Volume," Herman said.
The returns are sorted into barrels labeled by distributor, then counted out, bagged and loaded onto a truck. Distributors pay Bottle Junction for the returns, which are then recycled. Pabon said a two-liter plastic bottle is shredded down into a small cube and reused in such things as fleece clothing.
"It's really amazing how much comes in. You'd be surprised how much people save up," said Bottle Junction store manager Caitlin Siracuse.
Customers can direct those savings to a charity, rather than pocket the money. Pabon said charitable organizations can set up fundraising accounts with Bottle Junction, and customers can choose to give their return money to the fundraisers, and even get a receipt if they want. Bottle Junction will keep a running tally of donations, and the charity can then take receipt of the money by check. Between all three stores, he added, Bottle Junction supports more than 200 fundraisers.
Fundraising couldn't be easier through Bottle Junction, Pabon said.
"It's simple," Pabon said "They can get their check at any time. It's that easy, and you know what? It makes us feel good because we're helping out."