Since 2006, CLYNK has been recycling bottles and cans at its South Portland plant (more than 270 million, according to the ticking counter on its website), allowing customers to accumulate balances in personal accounts that can be redeemed for cash or donated to education and charity organizations. Now, in addition to seeing the dollar value of their recycling efforts, CLYNK customers can sign on to see their environmental impact — the value of their beer and soda containers not ending up at the landfill.
I've been a sporadic CLYNK-er for several years — I've bagged up close to 1000 redeemables. According to CLYNK, I've saved the emissions equivalent of driving my car 231 miles, or enough energy to light 1.2 light bulbs for a year. My recycled containers could fill 8.4 lobster traps.
"We understood from the beginning that because we had the barcode for every container, we also knew the type and weight," explains Clayton Kyle, CLYNK's CEO. "There is value in the stream. We wanted to know, how do you make that into credible, meaningful data?"
They turned to Sustainable Organization Advocacy Partners (SOAP), a local consulting firm that helped convert US Environmental Protection Agency statistics into CLYNK-relevant data. In addition to personal conversions, the CLYNK website now broadcasts numbers for the whole company: "The total energy saved by CLYNK-ing in the last 24 hours could power 12 homes for a year," it read on Monday afternoon.
The facility off Route 1 in South Portland is a loud and busy place — at least when a truck comes in with a new batch of bright green bags to be scanned and sorted. There are 46 CLYNK drop-off locations at Hannaford stores in Maine; the company employs about 50 people, swelling in the summer and deflating slightly in the winter.
There are 10 processing stations in the main bay, where men and women scan bag barcodes (to make sure your recyclables get credited toward your account), then send the redeemables up a conveyer belt to be individually scanned. Above their heads is an electronic scorecard that shows employees who's moving the fastest, as well as how many containers have been processed that hour and that day. Around 11 am on a recent Thursday, 67,282 cans and bottles had already gone through the system; the average per day is about 200,000.
Further on, the process becomes more mechanized — like a baby sibling to the complex system at EcoMaine. Glass is hand-sorted by color (green glass is the least valuable), then crushed and moved out. An eddy current, which acts like a reverse magnet, separates the aluminum from the plastic. Plastic is hand-sorted by density (if you accidentally throw your Oakhurst milk jug into your CLYNK bag, it will be recycled — you just won't get money for it). The plastic and aluminum are then compacted into huge bales that weigh hundreds of pounds and are piled 20 feet high along the side of the room. Beverage corporations like Coca-Cola and Budweiser make arrangements to pick up the bales periodically.
This, of course, is how CLYNK makes money, thanks to Maine's bottle bill. For every nickel it pays back to you (the same one you paid the convenience store when you bought your can of Moxie), CLYNK gets 3.5 cents from the company that manufactured the beverage. In turn, the company takes back the recycled containers to make into new ones (especially in the case of aluminum, which is almost 100-percent recyclable).
And all the while, I'm filling lobster traps. Virtual ones, of course.
Deirdre Fulton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.