Don’t Suspend Bottle Bill – But Do Overhaul It

The views expressed here do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the Northern California Recycling Association.

By Jeff Donlevy, General Manager, Ming’s Resource East Bay Corp, Hayward, CA, 6/9/20, 1988
In response to his letter regarding the need to Suspend and Overhaul the Bottle Bill, Mr. Forkash makes several good points that need to be acted upon in the near future, however, several of his points are not supported by most recycling centers that make their living from the program.

Overhauling the Bottle Bill is long overdue and we are recommending items that can be done fairly quickly to help support local recycling centers. However, the suggestion to suspend the Bottle Bill completely is not a realistic option.

The Bottle Bill can be fixed. Consumers throughout California want to get their deposits back and there are people of all walks of life that are dependent on getting their California Redemption Value (CRV) deposits back. Many companies, including locally, have grown, created jobs and done very well financially since the Bottle Bill was created.

Since 1986, the Bottle Bill has helped prevent billions of used beverage containers from ending up in streams, rivers, along highways, in the bay, the ocean, or in landfills. It has helped most Californians think about recycling material in their daily lives and returns over $700 million in CRV to Californians every year. Like he indicates, the unredeemed amount needs to be improved by adding more convenient redemption opportunities for consumers including Recycling Centers, In-store take back programs, Reverse Vending Machines (RVM’s), and Bag Drop Programs.

At the start of the Pandemic in March, the request was made to the Governors office to suspend the CRV program to prevent possible spread of the Covid virus, flatten the curve, and help reduce grocers and their employees from potential exposure from the public trying to redeem their CRV deposits. In late March, the Department of Homeland Security in Washington D.C. issued a letter that emphasized recycling centers in the United States were essential businesses supplying resources and material for needed manufacturing activity and support of grocers. Recycling centers that could implement and follow CDC guidelines for safe operations, handling of material, and social distancing with customers could remain open.

By April, approximately 800-900 of the 1,200 certified recycling centers were able to remain open and help relieve the burden of grocers from having to redeem deposits in the store. Currently, the Bottle Bill supports approximately 8,000 jobs, with most recycling centers being small family owned, and a large percentage minority, owned businesses.

On April 22, Governor Newsom issued a 60-day Executive Order, allowing recycling centers to remain open less than the 30 hours per week required by the Bottle Bill and relive the grocery stores and dealers from having to redeem containers in stores. The Order is set to expire on June 22. As we emerge and move into Phase 2, 3, and 4, now is the time to help recycling centers, so more people can redeem their deposits and get that money back into the local economy.

CalRecycle has been supportive of local recycling centers, attending meetings with concerned recycling center operators in Hayward with Senator Wieckowski staff and Alameda County Supervisor Richard Valle. CalRecycle staff has toured several bay area recycling centers, including Aaron’s Metals facility in Hayward, to gather more information on the impact of closures. CalRecycle is supportive, but they are limited in what they can do.

As of June 3rd, the Bay Area is one of the most underserved areas in the state of California for recycling centers. The Peninsula has only 3 recycling centers, East Bay has 7 recycling centers and San Jose/Santa Clara has only 6. Only 16 recycling centers for 5.2 million people. Several CRV recycling centers that were co-located with other metal recycling facilities like Aaron Metals or at solid waste facilities like Recology or Blue Line Transfer, may not re-open due to very low scrap prices for aluminum, plastic, and the underfunding by CalRecycle, as pointed out by Mr. Forkash.

Californians like to redeem their CRV deposits when the redemption locations are convenient. Curbside programs may be a ‘green’ option and convenient, but the quality and recovery of material is not the highest or best use, compared to taking material back to a CRV recycling center. With curbside programs, consumers do not get their deposits back . Curbside should be the last option, not the only option, as is the case in many northern California communities.

It is up to the Governor and Legislature to enact changes to the Bottle Bill that will help consumers redeem their deposits and get that money into the local economy, while supporting local recycling centers. We are recommending common sense reforms to help provide more redemption opportunities for consumers to redeem their deposits, including:

      • Provide additional financial relief for Recycling Centers due to low aluminum and plastic prices
      • Help grocers get made whole for redeeming CRV containers
      • Better use of Reverse Vending Machines’ (RVM’s)
      • Allow bag drop programs
      • Density based payments to recycling centers in underserved areas, like the Bay Area
      • Incentives for recyclers to open in unserved convenience zones
      • Hold cities accountable when recycling centers or redemption opportunities are not available in local jurisdictions
      • Allow CalRecycle authority to determine jurisdictional recycling zone requirements and
      • Convert funds approved under AB 54 and the Penalty account into a Matching Funds account that CalRecycle could use to help start up recycling centers, provide RVM’s, or equipment upgrades in rural or underserved areas.

We ask the Governor and Legislature to act swiftly this summer to approve legislation to help consumers get their deposits back, put money into the local economies, and support local recycling centers. Failure to do so could result in a continued collapse of the flawed program as Mr. Forkash points out. We agree with him, the recycling industry stands ready and willing to partner with the Governor, Legislature, and CalRecycle to re-build a robust recycling system worthy of the consumers it serves.