Thursday, December 29, 2011

Redeeming Value: Hilltop Bottle and Can Return to Benefit Local Disabled Workforce

Workers at Hilltop Industries are hopeful that 2012 will be a year of many happy returns.

The private, not-for-profit vocational services offshoot of The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming will formally introduce Hilltop Bottle and Can Return, a redemption center located at 5 East State Street in Mount Morris, at a grand opening scheduled for 10:00am Wednesday, January 11th.  According to Hilltop Program Director Kellie Kennedy, the new venture is part of Hilltop's ongoing effort to offer eco-friendly services while providing gainful employment opportunities for people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities.

"Of course, the primary intention is to create meaningful jobs for people with disabilities in our community," Kennedy says.  "Entering the bottle and can redemption business is also in line with Hilltop's commitment to recycling and the environment." 

Kennedy points out that Hilltop has also migrated to environmentally friendly cleaning products for its Janitorial Services contacts, and in 2009 opened Finders Keepers, a thrift store on Main Street, Mount Morris that specializes in repurposing quality used goods that might otherwise become landfill fodder.

It's fitting, then, that Hilltop Bottle and Can Return isn't only a recycling business, it's also a recycled business.

Until recently, Ivan Davis, owner of Grizzly’s Custom Cutting, had operated a bottle and can redemption center at 30 East State Street, almost directly across the street from Hilltop's sheltered workshop and administrative headquarters at 3 East State Street.  When Davis decided to exit the business, Kennedy and her team worked with their neighbor to absorb it and lay the foundation for Hilltop Bottle and Can Return.

Next, Hilltop maintenance crews took to work, transforming a modest free-standing structure located between the workshop and Transportation Center on the Hilltop campus into the bottle and can redemption center.  Their motivation: to watch those nickels add up.

In New York State, redemption centers such as Hilltop Bottle and Can Return receive a handling fee of 8.5 cents for every bottle or can that they reroute to its source.  So, after returning the nickel deposit to the customer, they bank 3.5 cents per bottle.  For Hilltop, more bottles and cans would equal more opportunity for people with disabilities, Kennedy reasoned.

At anticipated volumes, Kennedy expects that the redemption center will be able to employ 3-4 people with disabilities, supported by one "Job Coach," a direct support professional paid by Hilltop Industries to oversee the center.  Redemption center hours will be 10:00am-5:00pm Monday through Friday, and 9:00am-1:00pm on Saturdays.

Through its work and rehabilitation programs, Hilltop Industries serves about 350 individuals with disabilities annually.  Workers for Hilltop Bottle and Can Return were selected through an application and interview process overseen by Hilltop Coordinator of Vocational and Day Services Judy Welch.  Welch, who also oversaw the training of new redemption center employees, describes the selection process as “challenging but rewarding.”

"There was a ton of interest and enthusiasm about the new jobs at Hilltop Bottle and Can Return," Welch explains. "We had many candidates, but these are highly specialized jobs.  To be successful, workers need a strong sense of organization, math skills, and as a focus on customer service."

Rose Nehrbass has been employed by Hilltop Industries for one month and previously worked as a custodian for 18 years at Geneseo Central School.  Her new job at the redemption center involves collecting returnables from customers, and sorting them by brand.  Hilltop accepts all brands of New York State returnables.  Rose’s accuracy is critical because Hilltop has agreements with three different routers, and each accepts only certain brands of recyclables. 

"The job isn't easy, but I like the variety of tasks it offers," Rose says.  "I get to use counting and sorting skills and especially like using the cash register.  I look forward to meeting and helping our customers."

Hilltop Marketing and Sales Manager Rebecca Crocker stresses that volume will be the key to the new business' success, and that Hilltop workers such as Rose are prepared to go the extra mile to create customer loyalty.

Crocker explains that Hilltop Bottle and Can Return will provide an alternative for customers who tire of standing in line to feed containers one at a time into a machine that could fill up or break down.  Customers in a hurry can also drop off their recyclables and return at their convenience to collect their deposit money.  And there are plans to provide pick-up service for larger quantities of returnables.

"Hilltop Bottle and Can Return will also offer fundraising opportunities, where every nickel from your returns can automatically benefit your favorite charity, church, school or community organization," Crocker adds.  To create a drop-off account that will credit 5 cents per returnable item to the organization of your choice, visit

"It's important that we provide a rich, fulfilling experience for customers, which will keep them coming back.  We're confident that we’ll do exactly that,” Crocker concludes.  “Try us once; we know you'll return."

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