LEWISTON — It’s traditionally been a dirty, noisy and smelly business to be in — the business of collecting, sorting and recycling cans and bottles from the beverages bought and consumed in Maine.

The operative phrase is “bought in Maine,” because the state’s beverage container redemption program, known as the “bottle bill,” took effect in 1978 and has catapulted Maine to fame as the top in recycling in the country, at between 67% to 74% of waste. Maine also recycles the most per resident with an average of 285 pounds of waste recycled per capita, according to a 2021 report commissioned by the Ball Corp.

It should come as no surprise that nine out of 10 states with the best recycling rates have bottle bills in place. Only 10 states and the territory of Guam have bottle bills.

Roopers Beverage & Redemption President Jessie St. Laurent tosses a jug into a bin April 10 in the redemption center hub on Main Street in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal


Roopers says it is the largest Maine-owned redemption operation in the state, started in 1992 by founder Steve Roop, who built a small redemption station on Sabattus Street by himself.

The Maine Department of Environmental Control says there are 316 licensed redemption centers, 16 of them listed as Shaw’s and 61 listed as Hannaford. That leaves 239 independent redemption centers — more than 50 fewer than in 2019 — according to testimony before the Maine Legislature last year.


Today, the next generation of the family is running the beverage retail and wholesale chain, consisting of six stores and four redemption centers — three in Lewiston, two in Auburn, and one in Oxford — with a seventh store opening later this year in Winthrop.

Roopers Beverage & Redemption owner Stephanie Roop St. Laurent. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Steve Roop’s daughter, Stephanie Roop St. Laurent, is the owner, and her husband, Jessie St. Laurent, is the company president. “When dad started initially, it was just kind of an idea,” Stephanie St. Laurent explained. “He had a thought like, oh, this could really work. And it’s morphed into what it is today.”

In 2023, Roopers processed 35 million units of recyclable material — cans, plastic and glass bottles and containers — and the St. Laurents say volume has increased between 5% to 10% a year for the last four years. The redemption centers account for a significant portion of the company’s revenue, while three of the company’s longest serving employees work in redemption.

But across Maine, redemption centers have been closing in recent years — a trend that accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Steve Roop, however, saw opportunity and set his company up for success with two important moves. First, they invested in TOMRA sorting machines and, secondly, they started the “Drink Up Drop Off” campaign, eliminating the need to stand in line.

“They do bottles,” Jessie St. Laurent explained, “plastic bottles and cans, aluminum cans, and then we have two glass machines which crush the glass and it’s helped our employees.”

Customers sign up, receive a numbered card and when they are ready to drop off their empty containers, they affix a printed label with the account number on it. The recyclables are counted, and deposit refunds are posted to the customer’s card, which can be cashed in or used in any Roopers store.


“I think we’re at about what, 65% of our customers utilize the Drink Up Drop Off program at this point,” Stephanie St. Laurent said, adding it’s building every year, as people see the improvements to the program.

“As we all know during COVID it was tough to find people to work,” Jessie St. Laurent said, “and those machines have helped us get through it,” referring to a backlog of containers Roopers had never seen before.

“What happened really was when COVID hit, people were still buying,” Jessie St. Laurent pointed out. Yet, redemption centers across the state closed and many did not reopen. “Once we opened our redemption doors back up after COVID, it was an onslaught. People just kept dropping off bottles, dropping off bottles. And I think that’s what helped build that bottle program.”

Two years ago, it would sometimes be two to three weeks before bags of empty containers were sorted and counted. As bags of containers kept piling up, the backlog grew and the TOMRA sorting machines needed constant fixing.

“They weren’t used to the volume because we do a lot of volume and we were constantly working on them,” Jessie St. Laurent said. Roopers had to run two shifts just to keep up.

The biggest change came with one man. Andy Frenette was hired as Roopers’ redemption general manager, bringing with him decades of institutional knowledge and industry experience with Jones & Vining and Sazerac.


Roopers Redemption General Manager Andy Frenette explains the frustrations of the number of cans and bottles, foreground, that they take in every day throughout their operations. For instance, he says, Yuengling beer cans, foreground, have a Maine returnable stamp on the can, but are not sold in Maine and cannot be legitimately returned. They are trying to lobby state lawmakers and brewery officials to rectify the matter. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

“He understood that it takes a process and he started from the front,” Jessie St. Laurent explained. “We had some steps that we had to follow, and each employee had a certain role in that step. Then once we got to the end of that process, it was getting caught up. So, one bag at a time, one bag at a time.”

Frenette took charge, worked on the sorting machines and developed a more efficient system that’s now in place at all Roopers redemption locations.

“I don’t even know how to explain, but it was, it was a life-changing process for Roopers,” Jessie St. Laurent added.

As with most recycling systems, there are people who don’t follow the rules. For example, a surprising number of people still put milk jugs in their redemption center recyclables, which is a problem. They are not redeemable and should be put in your curbside or community recycling, as you don’t pay a deposit for them.

The other problem is beer, wine and spirits bought out of state, where no deposit is collected, but people try to collect anyway. The TOMRA machines reject them. Even if the container is stamped ME, if it was purchased out of state, you can’t redeem it in Maine.

“There’s a 360-degree laser that those bottles go through,” Jessie St. Laurent explained. “Cans and PET bottles go through and it scans the tag … if that bottle is redeemable in Maine. And if it isn’t, it spits it back out.”



For Jessie and Stephanie St. Laurent — who were not even born when Maine’s bottle bill took effect — the redemption centers are more than part of their business, and they insist that recycling is a universal responsibility. “We have children, and you know we need to be more conscious of what we’re leaving for our children,” Jessie St. Laurent said.

A display of containers on the wall at Roopers Redemption in Lewiston that have been turned in, but cannot be processed. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Lead by example is a good place to start and Andy Frenette has taken that message to heart, recycling whatever they can at Roopers to eliminate waste — from cardboard and paper to plastic and even the trash bags that the empty containers come in, eliminating the need for huge dumpsters. They even recycle the milk jugs that end up in their stream.

Steve Roop had an expression his daughter and son-in-law still repeat: “Put a nickel on it.” Roop felt every container from ketchup bottles to pickle jars should have a deposit tacked on to encourage people to recycle even more. “I think my father’s thought was if you put a deposit on things … they’re paying 5 cents, they then become committed,” Stephane St. Laurent said.

As for the future, the couple’s message is simple: “I think we could get a little bit better. I mean, we could always get better a little faster,” Jessie St. Laurent added. While he believes robotics may eventually be a part of the system, humans will always be involved.

He says there aren’t enough redemption centers in Maine, and both he and his wife were quick to respond when asked if more redemption centers are in their plans. “Absolutely.”

They are also big supporters of Maine’s bottle bill and would like to see it expanded to all 50 states.

“Our population is 5% of the world’s population, but we consume 30% of the water bottles and they get thrown away,” Jessie St. Laurent said. “Thirty-five billion bottles per year of water get thrown away — and that’s just the United States.”

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