A better way to cash in cans

A startup nickels and dimes its way into the recycling market.

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(Fortune Small Business) -- Even in this enlightened age of recycling, a majority of all bottles and cans end up in landfills. More than 200 billion beverage containers are sold each year in the U.S., says the nonprofit Container Recycling Institute, but fewer than 75 billion are recycled. That isn't just bad for the environment -- it's money left on the table.

Eleven states offer refunds on drink containers. The states keep unreturned deposits, and those nickels and dimes add up: New York alone netted $150 million last year.

That's a golden opportunity for Clynk, a startup in Scarborough, Maine. Clynk's patent-pending system scans bar codes on bottles and cans so it can return each kind to its maker. In Maine manufacturers must pay Clynk a 35 cent fee per container.

So far the company's annual revenues are little more than $1 million. But CEO Frank Whittier says his timing is great -- especially since New York, Connecticut and Oregon started offering deposits on water bottles this year. (Only six states do so.)

"This culture is starting to wake up to the fact that you can't just throw away 50 billion water containers every year," Whittier says.

Clynk appeals to consumers' wallets as much as it does to their consciences. Licensed as a bank in the state of Maine, Clynk offers customers accounts where they can deposit the change from their recycling. Currently the company has 165 drop-off locations in Hannaford supermarkets in New England.

And Clynk plans to start selling its scrap material in non-bottle-bill states too -- as quality scrap that manufacturers prize.

"The material you get from curbside recycling is awful," says Tex Corley, CEO of Strategic Materials in Houston, one of the country's largest glass recyclers. But Clynk's collection is "extremely high quality with no contamination."  To top of page

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