A beverage purchased March 22 at Walgreens in Farmington shows the 5-cent deposit fee on the label, while the sales receipt shows a 15-cent “recycling fee.” According to Maine law, it is illegal to overcharge for a deposit under the returnable beverage container program administered by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. Kay Neufeld/Franklin Journal

FARMINGTON — The complaints about a 15-cent “recycling fee” at Walgreens stores began in mid-March.

After a consumer posted on Facebook last week about a 15-cent charge for a bottle at Walgreens in Bethel, reporters from Sun Media Group’s western Maine weeklies went to stores in Farmington, Livermore Falls and Norway, purchased bottles that register under the state’s 5-cent deposit fee and each were charged 15 cents for “recycling fees.”

Under Maine’s bottle redemption program administered by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, a 5-cent deposit is charged to consumers to encourage people to recycle certain beverage containers.

Scott Wilson, project manager for sustainability for Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection, said this is explicitly against the stipulations set by Maine’s “Bottle Bill.”

“The deposit is set by the Legislature so you can’t just increase it to 15 cents,” he said. “You have to be able to get your 15 cents back, so that wouldn’t be a deposit.”

Walgreens corporate communications office responded late Thursday to a report published online in the Franklin Journal on Thursday morning that said stores in western Maine were charging a 15-cent deposit on certain returnable bottles, three times what state law allows.


Earlier requests for comment before the publication were not returned.

“Walgreens recently became aware of this issue and is actively working to correct bottle deposit fees charged at our Maine store locations,” Kris Lathan from the company’s Chicago, Illinois, office wrote. “Store teams are manually adjusting the fees until this is corrected in our system. Customers who were charged an incorrect bottle deposit fee can bring their receipt into a local Walgreens for reimbursement. We thank our customers for their continued patience and apologize for the inconvenience.

Wilson, from the Maine DEP, told the Franklin Journal on March 23 that the DEP had not yet been informed of any violations by companies in the state.

“This is the first I’ve heard of it,” he said. “I’ve not had any other reports of this.”

Wilson was clear that a store or company cannot charge more than the stipulated deposit fee. If they do, “we shut them down.”

Maine law  states that a violation could result in a $100 fine per day, charged each day as a “separate offense” if “the violation … continues or exists.”


The bottle return program incentivizes recycling by creating a deposit fee, set by the Legislature, which passes a fee from manufacturer to distributor to retailer to consumer. The consumer is responsible for returning the bottle to a redemption center to receive the fee they paid as stipulated by the bottle’s label.

“It’s a big circle (of money) that’s collected and moves around,” Wilson said.

In Norway, Walgreens charged a reporter with the Advertiser Democrat a 15-cent recycling fee for a bottle of ginger ale. Store manager Sabrina Lawler said it’s a companywide issue.

On Thursday evening, a member of the Sun Journal staff purchased a bottle of Arizona Green Tea at the Walgreens on Minot Avenue in Auburn, a bottle with a label noting the 5-cent Maine deposit. The Sun Journal was charged 15 cents for that deposit.

On Friday, that same staff member purchased the same tea at the Walgreens on Sabattus Street in Lewiston and the store on Union Street in Auburn. The Sun Journal was charged 15 cents for deposit on each bottle.

A reporter for the Advertiser Democrat purchased a bottle of ginger ale at Walgreens in Norway and was charged a 15-cent “recycling fee,” as noted on the receipt. Maine’s “Bottle Bill” stipulates a 5-cent deposit under the returnable beverage container program. Nicole Carter/Advertiser Democrat

Maine’s ‘Bottle Bill’


The Maine Legislature passed “Manufacturers, Distributors and Dealers of Beverage Containers” legislation, also known as the “Bottle Bill,” in 1975 to establish the Returnable Beverage Container Program. It’s now known as Maine’s Beverage Container Redemption Program, governed by Title 38, Chapter 33.

The purpose of the bill was to “create incentives for the manufacturers, distributors, dealers and consumers of beverage containers to reuse or recycle” them in order to reduce litter. They offer consumers a refund of no less than 5 cents.

In 2015, the Maine Legislature passed a bill transferring administration of the program to the Department of Environmental Protection.

According to the Maine DEP’s website, “the bottle bill has evolved into a successful recycling program for glass, metal, and plastic beverage containers which reduces litter, conserves resources, and saves energy.”

The program requires specific fees for different containers, stipulated on the label of the bottle:

• A 5-cent refundable deposit on beer, hard cider, wine coolers, soda or noncarbonated water beverage containers, and alcoholic or noncarbonated drinks sold in Maine.


• A 15-cent refundable deposit for spirits and wine beverage containers.

The process begins with manufacturers, distributors or sellers charging a beverage retailer the deposit fee. That fee is passed to consumers, who are encouraged to reclaim the deposit by returning the container to a redemption center.

Nine other states in America have similar bottle bills — though the deposit fees vary.

A receipt from Walgreens in Bethel on March 15 shows a 30-cent “recycling fee” for two bottles of spring water. Maine law stipulates a 5-cent refundable deposit per bottle of water. Submitted photo

No explanation

It’s unclear what spurred the fee increase at Walgreens stores or when it began.

The Franklin Journal first learned about it March 16.


Sabrina Lawler, manager of the Norway stores, said she doesn’t know when it started.

“It’s a companywide issue that they’re working on fixing,” she said.

Lawler said Norway employees are trying to “catch everything as it’s been going,” but “we don’t always catch it.”

Matthew LeClair, who manages the Farmington store, declined to comment on what caused this change.

Asked if he had received complaints from customers, LeClair said, “yes,” but did not expand.

Bernie Haines, the Bethel store manager, said said it was “probably something in an error of the system that I would have to get corrected.” He declined to comment on whether the store had been guided by Walgreens’ leadership on how to address the issue.


Haines said consumers can bring their receipts back and the store “will take care of you.”

As of Wednesday, Walgreens’ system still automatically charged a 15-cent deposit at the Farmington store. The fee could not be changed in the system, but a cashier reduced the price of the bottle by 10 cents.

Walgreens has also reportedly overcharged consumers for bottle deposits in Oregon and Michigan. In 2018, Heather Gilberti filed a class action lawsuit against the company claiming customers were “assessed bottle deposit charges on exempt beverages that could not be refunded under Oregon law.”


Staff writers Pam Harnden, Nicole Carter and graphic designer Lisa McCann contributed to this reporting.

Editor’s Note: This story contains an update from the original story published by the Franklin Journal on Thursday.

Receipts from Walgreens, left, and Dollar General, both in Livermore Falls, show 15-cent “recycling fees” charged by Walgreens for two beverages and 5-cent deposits charged by Dollar General for a two beverages. Maine’s “Bottle Bill” stipulates a 5-cent deposit under the returnable beverage container program. Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser

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