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Andy Prest: 'Express' bottle return depot is a legit game-changer

You'll never be the same again once you've tried dropping that bag of bottles off at the depot and just walking away
Using the Return-It Express option takes all the hard work out of returning bottles and cans, writes columnist Andy Prest (not pictured here).

“Game changer” is one of those cliches that gets thrown around so often these days that it has been rendered almost meaningless. So many ideas and things get elevated to “game changer” status that should, in reality, have game-mostly-stay-the-same-er status. 

Plus when you get a certain age, you aren’t really looking for game-changing experiences anyway. We like our game the way it is. We hate change. 

Game changers can be a tough sell, is what I’m saying. 

But friends, I’ve found a real one. My game has been changed, and it’ll never be the same. What changed it? Two-and-a-half words: Return-It Express. 

Let me explain. 

You know the bottle depot, right? Loud, sticky, dark, a little scary maybe? It wasn’t always like that.

Bottle returns used to be an organic thing – in the 1800s bottles were handmade so they were valuable. If you got a bottle of soda from the store or beer from the local pub, you’d bring it back to get filled again. No one was wasting a perfectly good glass bottle, unless perhaps some sidewinder in the saloon was cheating at poker and you needed to smash something over his head. That’s all fine – the pianist wouldn’t even stop playing for that. 

As the 1900s arrived and mass production started to kick in, the bottle return system stayed mostly intact, particularly through the lean years of the Great Depression and Second World War, when conserving scarce materials was an important and respected part of life. 

Then the prosperity boom hit, and we entered a world of leisure and, above all, convenience. Single serve beverages became the norm, and no one cared about recycling or reusing those containers. Folks driving their Buicks home from the “super market” felt no guilt whatsoever chucking that empty bottle or can right out the window. No problem – we can buy another soda anywhere! That’s why they were “the greatest generation.”

Eventually in the 1960s folks started to worry about the “environment,” and with that came the widespread use of the “deposit,” a concept that saw the consumer charged for every container, with the money coming back to them only if they returned that bottle or can to be reused or recycled. It worked, but it was also “annoying.”

That’s where I came in. I’ve spent my whole life storing used bottles and cans in some closet or basement, loading them up every six to 48 weeks, and braving the depot to get my money back. 

Where I grew up, the depot was across the tracks, in the bad part of town. There wasn’t much trouble at the depot though, because it was guarded by an army of drunk wasps. 

In college my roommate and I started storing our bottles up against a wall in the kitchen. Eventually the wall was filled to the ceiling with cases of empties, our design influenced by the school of New Molsonism. We also decorated an adjacent wall with stacks of empty pizza boxes, and … sorry, what’s that? Why yes, we were popular with the ladies, why do you ask? 

I’m sad to say that things didn’t change all that much as I got married and had kids. Well, technically I’m not that sad, but my wife sure is!

I was tasked with bottle return, and I’d let them pile up too long. When I finally made the trip to the depot I’d sort them into those little blue boxes – covered in grime older than Confederation – and wheel them over on those squeaky grey carts. And then I’d wash my hands for five minutes in ice cold and/or scalding water and come back home with the world’s hardest-earned $7.85.

Now don’t get me wrong – I respect the hustle of everyone in the bottle depot, in particular the absolute gems that work there. Those folks have seen some stuff (and heard some stuff, and SMELLED some stuff). 

They work hard for the money, but they’re never going to have to smell me again. Why? Return-It Express.

I was sceptical at first, but my wife and my buddy convinced me to try it, and I’m never going back. I mean I am literally never going back into the depot to sort those bottles and wait in line for my eight bucks again. From now on I’m doing Return-It Express, dropping off a clear plastic bag full of bottles and then hustling out of there like I’ve left a grenade. On the drive home I’ll laugh and sing, grime-free and un-stung, knowing that the Return-It Express folks are happily going to do all the counting and sorting for me and then just send the money back my way. Game. Changer. 

I’m serious – no life change has hit me as quickly as this one did. When I just dropped off the bag and left, it felt like cheating. It’s not though, it’s just greatness. All the instructions are on the website, and I promise it’s easy.

Try it. Bag ‘em, drop ‘em off, walk out the door and watch the cash roll in. 

That’s it. Smell ya later.   

Andy Prest is the editor of the North Shore News. His humour/lifestyle column runs biweekly.