Walgreens has been overcharging bottle deposit fees in some Maine stores. The bottle redemption program is administered by the Maine Department of Environmental Protections with fees stipulated by Maine’s Legislature. It is illegal in Maine to charge more for a bottle redemption fee than what is stipulated by the DEP and printed on the label. Pictured is a beverage with a 5-cent deposit fee purchased from a Walgreens in Farmington and the receipt, with a 15-cent “recycling” fee. Kay Neufeld/Franklin Journal

In mid-March, consumers began reporting that Walgreens locations in Maine were charging a 15-cent “recycling” fee for bottles that should only incur a 5-cent bottle deposit fee.

After a consumer posted on Facebook last week about this fee being charged at the 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 bottle deposit fee and each were charged 15 cents in recycling fees.

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 bottle return program incentivizes recycling by creating a bottle deposit fee, set by the Legislature, which passes a fee from manufacturer to distributor to retailer to consumer.

The consumer is then 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.


It is not the intent of the program for any distributor or dealer to make a profit on deposit fees.

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

In Norway, Walgreens charged a reporter with the Advertiser Democrat a 15-cent recycling fee for a bottle of ginger ale. Walgreens should have charged a five-cent deposit – as mandated by the state. The Norway location’s manager, Sabrina Lawler, said it’s a company-wide issue. For how long, she doesn’t know.

In Norway, Walgreens charged a reporter with the Advertiser Democrat 15 cents for a “recycling” fee on a ginger ale purchase. Walgreens should have charged five cents – as mandated by the state – but charged the higher amount instead. The Norway location’s manager, Sabrina Lawler, said it’s been an issue. Nicole Carter/Advertiser Democrat


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 do so by offering consumers a refund value of no less than five cents for the fee.


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 now 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 non-carbonated water beverage containers, and alcoholic or non-carbonated drinks sold in Maine; and

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

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


The statute 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.”

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

Posted on Facebook was a comment about being overcharged for a “recycling” fee at the Bethel Walgreens Tuesday, March 15. It’s unclear when Walgreens first began overcharging for the bottle redemption fee – which is determined by the state. Screenshot


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

The Franklin Journal first learned about the increased deposit fee March 16.

Sabrina Lawler, manager of the Norway location, doesn’t know when the fee first increased.


Lawler said, “it’s a company-wide issue that they’re working on fixing.”

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

She said the company has been instructed to “let them know every time we have [an instance of increased fees].”

Matthew LeClair, the manager of the Farmington store, declined to comment on what’s caused this change.

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

Bernie Haines, manager of the Bethel location, said that 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.


It’s unclear what the Walgreens company is doing with the information provided by the Norway store – or if other stores have been similarly instructed.

When the Franklin Journal spoke with Wilson on Wednesday, March 23, he said the DEP had not yet been informed of any violations by companies in the state.

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

The Livermore Falls location of Walgreens charged a 15-cent “recycling” fee for a bottle with a printed five-cent redemption fee. Pictured is a comparison of receipts from the Livermore Falls locations for Walgreens and Dollar Tree, where the same bottle purchases were charged five-cent fees. Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser

“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.”

Individual Walgreens locations have been trying to address the issue. Haines, at the Bethel store, said consumers can bring their receipts back and the store “will take care of you.”

As of Wednesday, March 30, Walgreens’ system still automatically charged a 15-cent deposit fee for a 5-cent bottle at the Farmington location. The actual fee could not be changed in the system, but a cashier reduced the price of the bottle by 10 cents.


Walgreens has 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.”

Walgreens has not publicly addressed the issue or informed Maine customers that they can return to the store for reimbursement if they are overcharged.

Representatives from the Walgreens corporate office, headquartered in Illinois, did not respond to questions by press time.

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

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