Ming’s Resources East Bay Corp., Hayward, Calif., and the Container Recycling Institute (CRI), Culver City, Calif., raise concerns about a proposed $330 million investment in California’s container drop-off program. Representatives from both organizations say the proposal fails to improve recycling infrastructure in the state.
“It doesn’t have goals or an analysis of the problems of the existing program,” says Susan Collins, president of the IRC. “Without those goals, there’s a bunch of areas where they have expenses for different projects, but there’s no clear link between goal achievement, the projects chosen, and the amount of expenses chosen for each project. .”
Passed in 1987, California residents pay a California redemption value (CRV) when they buy certain beverages from in-state retailers and receive CRV refunds when they redeem those containers at a recycling center. Most beverages packaged in aluminum, glass, plastic and bimetal containers are eligible for VRC. Containers of milk, wine and distilled spirits are not included in the CRV program. The CRV is 5 cents for each beverage container under 24 ounces and 10 cents for each container 24 ounces or more. Since their introduction, more than 300 billion aluminum, glass and plastic beverage containers have been recycled, according to CalRecycle (California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery), the organization that oversees waste and recycling programs in California
In a statement given to recycle today, CalRecycle says the proposal would increase access to recycling opportunities in underserved communities by establishing new recycling centers, mobile recycling programs and automatic recycling machines. Using a consumer incentive credit, CalRecycle says it expects to increase beverage container recovery through the program. Finally, the proposal would provide market incentives for high quality collection to support the achievement of minimum recycled content targets and encourage remanufacturing.
The $330 million proposal distributes the funds in different ways:
- $55 million to increase returns in rural and underserved communities through publicly funded cell phone recycling programs;
- $100 million to add about 2,000 reverse vending machines through grants to high schools, colleges and retailers who are required to redeem the containers in-store;
- $100 million to double consumer refunds with bonus recycling credits once the new mobile recycling and reverse vending machine programs are in place;
- $50 million to maximize the quality of recycled beverage containers to help more of them be recycled into new beverage containers, required by AB 793; and
- $25 million for new infrastructure and technology to support redemptions and administration costs.
However, the CRI and a representative of Ming’s say the proposal does not address issues affecting the state’s recycling program.
Jeff Donlevy, chief executive of Ming’s Resources, said the proposed plan would spend money on short-term projects without addressing the long-term issues associated with California’s beverage container buyback program. He says the biggest problem with California’s CRV program is the lack of equitable access to redemption centers, which the proposal does not address.
Collins and Donlevy say they are concerned about one of the main aspects of the proposal: the installation of reverse vending machines (RVMs) in grocery stores. While they agree that increased use of these machines will be helpful, both say they believe more could be done to ensure the program is effective.
“Stores must receive a processing fee for in-store redemption in order to use RVMs and provide the service to consumers,” says Donlevy.
In a letter sent to CalRecycle expressing concerns about the proposal, CRI says retailers have no legal way to easily deliver materials to processors to be reimbursed for deposit refunds they give to consumers who return their containers. It is therefore difficult to comply with the law without paying an opt-out fee. The program also requires training, which takes up to three days, making it unappealing to store owners. As a result, this creates a level playing field for retailers that participate in the program versus those that don’t, according to CRI.
Donlevy and Collins say another problem with the proposal is that California’s mobile recycling program isn’t working.
The Beverage Container Recycling Pilot Program, created by Senate Bill 458, authorized CalRecycle to approve up to five pilot projects proposed by local jurisdictions to explore new models for buying back CRVs in underserved areas . Assembly Bill 54 made changes to the pilot program to allow for greater flexibility and provide up to $5 million in funding for approved projects.
Under this legislation, CalRecycle approved San Francisco’s pilot project that combines a traditional recycling center site with a bag collection program that uses collection bins at various locations around the city. Consumers can locate collection bins using their cell phone, drop their labeled bags of empty beverage containers into the bin, and receive electronic payment for their materials within 72 hours of material processing.
The Culver City pilot was also approved. This project includes a mobile redemption center that rotates between two selected locations six days a week for a total of 43 hours.
Despite the intention to facilitate retraining, Collins and Donlevy say the results of mobile programs are disappointing because they are not available when people are not working.
The CRI adds that currently, mobile recycling options exempt grocers from taking back containers. According to the organization, this takes away the convenience for consumers trying to recover their deposits without providing a viable alternative option.
“What the state needs are permanent, fixed locations where people know this recycling center is going to be here, five or six days a week, even after hours when people aren’t working” , says Donlevy. “We have to provide comfort. Without recycling centers available, stores using the RVMs will not have places to take the material received in the RVMs or someone to provide the collection service.
One of the main issues Donlevy has with the proposal is the $100 million investment to double consumer refunds once new mobile and RVM operations are established. In effect, this would force people without access to redemption centers to do everything possible to participate, which could be more expensive.
“It doesn’t give the money to areas where people have lost their deposits because they don’t have nearby recycling centers,” says Donlevy. “Or it would require them to drive 10, 20, 30, maybe 50 miles to find a recycling center to get that double deposit.”
The letter CRI sent to CalRecycle says the expected increase in materials being returned to redemption points could also lead to facility closures. Indeed, they could maximize their physical capacity, storage capacity, truck capacity and employee availability to meet the increase in customers and materials.
Instead, CRI says the $100 million earmarked to double consumer refunds could be used to rebuild about 1,000 redemption centers across the state. This would expand access to recycling in areas like San Francisco, which has two recycling centers for the city’s 900,000 residents.
“We did a report in 2016 that explained how many redemption centers had closed,” says Collins. “We have identified the source of the problem, which was [that] they were underpaid. Over a six-year period, more redemption centers closed until half of all redemption centers in the state were closed.
CRI says the closures are caused by an inadequate redemption center processing payments from CalRecycle, which administers and oversees recycling programs. Due to these underpayments and other factors, more than half of state redemption centers have closed since 2013.
One of the most notable examples of business closures is rePlanet LLC, which had operated a network of beverage container redemption centers across California since 1984. In 2019, the company closed 284 redemption centers across California. state and laid off its entire workforce, about 750 people. . Previously, in 2016, it closed 191 recycling facilities and laid off 300 employees.
At its peak, the company operated 600 centers statewide, but cutting state fees, falling prices for UBCs and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles, and rising costs for exploitation resulting from minimum wage increases and required compensation for health and workers’ insurance forced the business to close.
Instead of the current proposal, Collins suggests mapping current redemption centers and potential locations for new centers.
Additionally, she says CalRecycle will need additional staff to monitor the program and ensure that metrics goals are met.
Donlevy suggests providing bonus deposits to consumers using new redemption centers, in-store take-back or automated collection equipment in previously underserved areas for the first three months of operation. It also suggests providing funds to open new redemption centers in underserved areas, as approved by CalRecycle. Donlevy says quality incentive payments to curbside programs for aluminum, PET and glass based on the outgoing quality of the installation would also be effective.
Despite concerns raised by Collins and Donley, CalRecycle says the proposed changes would create more opportunities to recycle in underserved communities through mobile recycling programs. It says the proposal will add 2,000 RVMs to increase buy-back access across the state and strengthen markets to support recycling/remanufacturing businesses by improving the quality of recycled beverage containers.
As it stands, it is unclear if any of the suggested changes will be made to the proposal. However, CalReycle says the California State Legislature has an opportunity in the coming weeks to further consider the proposal and work with the Newsom administration during the ongoing budget passage process. A final vote could take place this summer, before lawmakers take a break.