California is sitting on a $600 million pile of unclaimed nickel deposits and pennies on recyclable cans and bottles and now wants to return some of it to consumers.
To get the state’s nearly 40 million residents to recycle more and send more deposits back to them, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration on Friday unveiled a plan to temporarily double the one-bottle refund to a penny. or a 12 ounce (355 milliliter) can. California already pays 10 cents on containers over 24 ounces (709 milliliters), and that would temporarily double to 20 cents.
The move would make California one of the highest-paying recycling programs in the country. Rachel Machi Wagoner, director of the California Department of Recycling and Resource Recovery, said the effort will help California return to being the recycling leader it was 35 years ago when it launched its rebate program in species.
When someone in California buys a regular-sized soda, a 5-cent charge is applied that can be recouped if the container is returned for recycling. Under Newsom’s plan, the deposit fee would remain the same, but the return amount would double. The goal is to increase the recycling rate for beverage containers from 70% to at least 80%.
Oregon and Michigan already offer 10-cent refunds, and advocacy groups say the amount for each glass or plastic or aluminum bottle was enough for consumers to recycle at least nine out of 10 containers.
Consumer Watchdog advocacy group chairman Jamie Court, a frequent critic of the recycling scheme, called the plan “not very positive” and “a bold proposal to give people their money back”.
“This money is not benefiting anyone sitting in the bank,” Court said. “We need a full structural solution, but this is a good interim step.”
California’s proposal fuels the latest national effort to boost recycling as beverage distributors face increased pressure to include higher percentages of recycled materials in their containers, said the executive director of the National Stewardship Action Council, Heidi Sanborn.
Only 10 of 50 states currently have deposit programs, but many are considering them — potentially creating a confusing patchwork and cluttered drink labels with deposit amounts from different states, something distributors want to avoid.
The doubling of California’s reimbursements would be temporary – the duration of the change has not yet been decided – and is expected to cost $100 million. If approved by the Legislative Assembly, the increased reimbursement would take effect in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
It’s uncertain whether any increase in recycling will last after the price hike ends, Sanborn acknowledged, but instead hopes California decides to make the increase permanent. She also hopes state pressure will boost attempts by U.S. Representative Alan Lowenthal of California and U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon to craft a nationwide bottle bill.
Newsom’s plan also attempts to ease a bottleneck that began years ago with more neighborhood recycling centers closing, and Consumer Watchdog said many grocery stores are also refusing to take back in-store empties. if needed.
To increase access, the Newsom administration is proposing to spend $100 million in grants to add about 2,000 automated recycling machines, also called reverse vending machines, to high schools, colleges and retailers. Consumers empty their empty containers into the machines, which reimburse.
Another $55 million would go to state-funded mobile recycling programs in rural areas and other places with few recycling options.
Consumers are very upset “not being able to return their bottles and cans and get their money back as promised,” said Sanborn, who also heads California’s Statewide Commission on Recycling Markets & Curbside Recycling.
Sanborn blamed the closure of many California recycling centers on the state’s inability to quickly adjust its complicated payment formula to meet changing market conditions.
Many recyclables from California are routed to China, which in 2017 tightened standards for accepting contaminated materials, including plastics. The move “totally slammed the recycling industry” nationwide, said Kate O’Neill, a professor of environmental science at the University of California, Berkeley and author of the 2019 book “Waste.”
The U.S. market is now recovering with the addition of domestic recycling facilities, but there’s still a problem matching supply with demand, O’Neill said.
Recycling officials expected beverage consumption to decline during the pandemic, as it does during most economic downturns, Wagoner said. Instead, container sales in California grew by 2.5 billion over three years, to 27 billion last year, signifying a record number of deposits going to the state’s recycling fund.
The number of returnable containers recycled in California meanwhile hit a record high of more than 18.8 billion in 2021 — but that still left a lot of money on the table.
Repeated attempts to improve the state’s recycling system have run into trouble in the Legislature, even as California tries to increase its recycling rates, minimize food waste and work towards a low-cost economy. circular use.
Wagoner said Friday’s proposal was an interim step while the administration continued discussions with lawmakers on permanent solutions.
Democratic State Sen. Bob Wieckowski said he tried a bill last year with proposals similar to what the administration is now suggesting, “and they didn’t want to hear about it.” He predicts people are now hoarding their recyclables until the double buy-back period, then facing long queues once it starts.
His proposal this year would make producers more responsible for recycling their containers.
“It’s got a bit of a whimsical nature to it,” Wieckowski said of the state’s plan. “We have 45 dressings on this program, and sometimes you have to get out of the dressing business.”