By Andrew Sheeler, SAN LUIS OBISPO TRIBUNE
August 12, 2019
The leadership of CalRecycle must drastically change or else be sacked and replaced by Gov. Gavin Newsom, according to a letter written to the governor from the head of a consumer advocacy group, just days after the largest recycling chain in California shuttered all remaining locations.
“This is gross mismanagement that should not be tolerated,” wrote Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, to Newsom. “We suggest an immediate job review for the director of CalRecycle and possible replacement depending upon on its findings.”
Court’s letter argued that CalRecycle has done nothing to stem the wave of recycling center closures in the Golden State.
“CalRecycle has been highlighting these issues and doing everything allowable under current law to address these challenges for years,” a CalRecycle spokesman said in a statement. “CalRecycle consistently does everything required by law and everything allowed by law to further the stated goals of the Beverage Container Recycling Program.”
In 2013, there were more than 2,600 can and bottle redemption centers around the state; now, there are just 1,226 left, according to Consumer Watchdog researcher Liza Tucker.
Even before rePlanet shuttered all remaining 284 locations last Monday, there was just one redemption center for every 27,000 people in the state, leading to massive wait times for people trying to recover their can and bottle deposits.
“Who is going to recycle when you have to stand in line for two or three or four hours? Nobody,” Tucker said.
Though California still leads the nation in recycling, Tucker pointed out that that lead has decreased significantly over the last seven years.
While half of Californians were recycling their solid waste in 2012, that number has fallen to 42 percent in 2017, according to CalRecycle numbers provided by Tucker.
On top of that, “Californians are generating more and more trash. Since 2012, trash disposal has increased per resident from 5.3 pounds to 6 pounds every day. That amounts to the weight of a subcompact car per person per year,” Tucker said.
She said consumers need to have convenient, easy access to can and bottle recycling, but instead the state “has aided and abetted the collapse of the system it was supposed to ensure flourished.”
In his letter to Newsom, Court alleged that CalRecycle has failed to produce timely financial reports and failed to hold beverage companies and retail and convenience stores accountable.
“Instead, the entirety of CalRecycle’s response has been to quibble with our numbers in the media and ignore the crisis,” Court argued.
CalRecycle published its latest quarterly report, for the first quarter of the 2018-19 fiscal year, on Friday. A spokesman for the agency conceded that there have been delays in the past, writing, “Historically, CalRecycle acknowledges there have been delays in publishing these reports. The department has since made a commitment to better streamline the process, which has produced positive results.”
Court called on CalRecycle to “crack down on grocers and retailers that are obligated to take back bottles and cans,” to immediately release a report on how much consumer deposit money is being held in state accounts, and to “embark on a high profile public education and enforcement campaign to let consumers know they have an easy way to redeem their bottles and cans.”
A CalRecycle spokesman said the agency has actively enforcing the law; in the last five years, CalRecycle has issued 1,314 violations to retailers who failed to either put up required signage indicating in-store redemption or for not redeeming cans and bottles when they had agreed to. This has generated nearly $100,000 in fines.
Court also called for the modernization of the state’s 33-year-old can and bottle program, either in a special session of the Legislature or by a special “gubernatorial strike force.”
“You inherited a crisis, but CalRecycle has long known about it. It’s now time to solve the problem and help both consumers and the environment,” Court wrote.
In response, a CalRecycle spokesman wrote that, “CalRecycle is always open to working with the Legislature on short- and long-term solutions to support recycling centers.”
A representative from Newsom’s office did not respond to an inquiry about the letter by deadline.
Andrew Sheeler covers California’s unique political climate for McClatchy. He has covered crime and politics from Interior Alaska to North Dakota’s oil patch to the rugged coast of southern Oregon. He attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks.