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Bill Assigning Responsibility For Recycling Bottles & Cans To Beverage Industry Passes CA Senate In Major Consumer Victory

Thu, 06/03/2021 - 11:17
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Sacramento, CA — SB 38 (D-Wieckowski), a bill to overhaul the state’s bottle deposit program by forcing the beverage industry to create an accessible recycling and redemption system for its bottles and cans, passed the Senate 23 to 8 in a major victory for consumers and the environment, Consumer Watchdog said today.  The bill now heads to the Assembly.

“California’s bottle deposit program is in such disrepair that consumers only receive their nickel and dime deposits back a little more than half the time and as result too many cans and bottles go to landfills,” said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog. “SB38 hits restart and requires the beverage industry to establish thousands of convenient recycling and redemption points across the state so consumers get their deposits back and bottles and cans avoid contamination that happens in curbside bins.”

Today the state’s consumer redemption rate – the rate at which consumers gets back their California Redemption Value (CRV) deposit – stands at 57%, third to worst among ten bottle deposit states. The most successful, such as Oregon and Michigan, deliver redemption rates of 86% and 89% respectively through the same system that SB 38 puts in place for California. 

All of the successful bottle deposit systems in the nation and world use the extended producer responsibility system that SB 38 establishes – putting the onus on the industry that profits from the bottles and cans to provide convenient redemption and recycling.

A new Consumer Watchdog report - Waste Haulers: The Square Peg In the Circular Economy – puts the responsibility for the current system’s failure on waste haulers. Read the report here

California waste haulers, who received more than half of all state subsidies while recycling only ten percent of bottles and cans, have beggared the state redemption center system.  The haulers’ excessive subsidies have forced mass closures of redemption centers – leaving consumers few places to get their bottle deposits back. Grocers, who are supposed to take back bottles and cans when there is no redemption center, increasingly refuse to do so. When curbside is the only option, not only is the CRV deposit forfeited but at least one quarter of the bottles are contaminated and go to landfills.

Senate Bill 38 forces the beverage industry to arrange for convenient redemption of bottle and can deposits, holding it to an 85% redemption standard.  SB38 is opposed by the waste hauling industry.

“SB 38 will boost redemption rates dramatically,” said Liza Tucker of Consumer Watchdog, who authored the “Square Peg” report.  “The reason is that the beverage industry can use its advanced system of beverage distribution in reverse to collect empties from supermarkets, bring them to warehouses, and sell clean, sequestered material to recyclers.”

Among the main findings of the report are:

•Waste hauler recycling methods lead to the contamination of one quarter to one third of all materials tossed into recycling bins, dumped into trash trucks, and further sifted at giant materials recovery facilities (MRFs) operated by haulers. 
•Waste haulers, including municipal haulers, were paid $146 million in 2020 for consumer CRV “donated” to their recycling bins at curbside and rural drop off locations. That is money for CRV deposits that consumers are never repaid. California is the only bottle deposit state to allow waste haulers to bill it for CRV deposits paid by consumers for containers collected in curbside recycling bins.

•Waste haulers are paid 20 times what it costs them to sort CRV containers at MRFs, according to the results of a Public Records Act (PRA) request by Consumer Watchdog to the state’s recycling regulator CalRecycle. 

•Waste haulers’ landfills belonging to Republic Services, Waste Connections, and Waste Management are among California’s leading methane “super-emitters.”

•Waste haulers are paid more than $50 million a year in additional subsidies and giveaways that virtually no other bottle deposit state pays and that have never been shown to improve the quality of the materials they collect or to be financially necessary.
•Leading waste haulers have been indicted or paid settlements for corrupt practices and bribery charges, including a recent settlement of more than $100 million by Recology with the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office for ratepayer overcharges. Recology is the sponsor of a proposed ballot measure to set new mandates to reduce single use plastic packaging and tax manufacturers to raise several billion dollars a year to benefit, among others, themselves.
•Leading waste haulers donated more than $1.3 million to state legislators between 2017 and 2020 and employ heavy hitter lobbyists that have used the revolving door between positions in the Administration and/or Legislature and represent multiple clients, including haulers’ corporate bedfellows—the beverage industry—against reform of the bottle deposit system.
•The trash and beverage industries have funded Californians Against Waste, a group with roots in the environmental movement that is the only advocacy organization to join the industry coalition opposing SB 38. Donors to the group include the biggest for-profit waste haulers in the state and major beverage makers and distributors. The former director of CalRecycle was a lobbyist for the group, as was a special advisor to the director. Under the former director, meaningful reform of the deposit system was stymied. 
Consumer Watchdog is a nonprofit nonpartisan public interest group.  Learn more at www.ConsumerWatchdog.org

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