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Senator Bob Wieckowski. (Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

Senate Committee to Vote on Statewide Rehaul of Recycling System

Beverage makers and retailers would carry more of the recycling burden under the bill.

By Evan Symon, January 15, 2020 4:43 pm

A returning bill to the California Senate that would require beverage makers to take back their own cans and bottles, rather than the current system of consumers physically bringing empty containers to recycling centers, is to be voted on in a Senate Committee this week.

A new type of can and bottle buyback

SB 372, authored by Senator Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont), would give beverage companies until 2024 to come up with a buyback system. The bill will also add wine and liquor bottles to the revamped recycling and deposit program. A beverage stewardship program would then oversee the new ‘Beverage Container Recycling Program’ to ensure payments, correct usage, and use uncollected refund money to fund the program.

Under SB 372, California would have a system similar to Oregon or Michigan. Both states have ‘reverse vending machines’ outside of food stores and other locations where machines accept “depositable” bottles and cans in exchange for money or store credit.

In recent years the state’s recycling system has been the subject of growing scrutiny due to a growing segment of consumers in California not recycling, California losing half of it’s recycling centers in the last ten years, and a sizable loss of junkers and can collectors resulting from a surging economy after the Great Recession.

 Support for SB 372

Many lawmakers, environmental organizations, and cities in California support SB 372 as they believe it would solve these problems, fix a broken system, and have beverage companies be in charge of an issue they helped create.

Senator Wieckowski, the bill’s author who has been a long-time supporter of recycling and fixing the industry, has been trying to pass a similar type of bill for years. In 2018 he authored SB 168, a proto-version of the current bill, which subsequently failed in an Assembly vote.

“Our bottle recycling system is broken,” said Senator Wieckowski earlier this week. “It’s time for the beverage industry to step up and take more responsibility.

The current system is broken down, its antiquated, it’s done. We’re going to turn it over to private business.”

A ‘bill to appeal to everyone’

Recycling experts have noted how the bill is designed to make it easily passable.

“Wieckowski couldn’t have written a better bill to appeal to everyone,” said Sarah Cornish, an environmental policy expert in Sacramento. “They went through a lot of programs that have been instituted all over the world and found the type Californians would go for. The bill says the companies have to decide on what, but it’s obvious that they want them to use the machines Oregon and Germany use. With Lotto machines and Coinstars and water stations, this would just be another in the supermarket landscape. That’s the picture he’s painting.”

“It also helps that other states who did this see higher recycling rates. That helps sell it, since California’s are going down right now, at least when it comes to depositable bottles and cans and things.”

“Also, it gives an environmentally friendly solution and has drink companies be responsible, which appeals to Democrats. And it also takes away a lot of government responsibility into the hands of, as the Senator said, private business. That gives Republicans something.”

Companies such as Pepsico and Coca-Cola have also given support of the bill, as they have with measures in similar initiatives around the world.

Opposing the bill

However, opposition against the bill from recycling and scrap companies have shown that support is not universal.

Harris Wu, who helps run a recycling center in the Bay Area, has said that the bill wouldn’t be good for the remaining centers in the state.

“If they have these machines, people won’t come by as much with all their cans and bottles, and even other materials we take,” explained Wu. “We’re fighting for our lives, but if this bill passes, we’ll be done in four years. Which would people rather do, drive half an hour out of town to drop off a few dollars worth of cans, or go to the grocery store a few blocks away and do it?”

“They can’t ensure that they’re clean or even the right materials like we do. The machines don’t give that professional touch like we do, nor do they help unload, or help organize or anything like we do.”

“Aluminum isn’t worth what it once was, but it still keeps us afloat. Without that, we’re gone.”

If passed by the Senate Environmental Quality Committee, SB 372 will face Senate and Assembly votes later this year.

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One thought on “Senate Committee to Vote on Statewide Rehaul of Recycling System

  1. I remember very clearly about 20 years ago, there were already RVMs (Reverse Vending Machines) in use here in CA. The stores hated them because they’d fill up very fast, and they’d have to have an employee come out and open the machine up, take out the bin and pull out the bag, insert a new bag, close it up, and drag the heavy (in the case of bottles) stuff off to store it somewhere until it was picked up for recycling. The RVMs lasted only about a year IIRC, and they disappeared completely. Since then, the only RVMs I’ve seen were at the (now defunct) RePlanet Recycling locations, and even then only at a few of them. RePlanet went out of business a few months ago, leaving no convenient place to recycle near here.

    Now they want to bring back the RVMs? I can’t believe the supermarkets are for these, unless someone is paid to maintain and empty them multiple times a day. Too labor intensive, and impractical. Of course, I, as a captive consumer forced to pay CRV, like the RVMs for a 24 hr. convenience factor, but it just won’t work out. It’s already been tried and failed. The RVMs at RePlanet were constantly out of order, broken down and turned off. The same will happen with these.

    The entire CRV scam this state runs is a total mess anyway. The CRV is notably NOT a deposit, it’s a fee, and it’s charged to the beverage makers at point of production, which they don’t HAVE to pass on to the consumer. Of course, they do, since they’d be stupid not to. Meanwhile, the state escapes having to do anything and just collects the CRV money and puts it in the general fund. They were always slow to pay it back to the recyclers, so many went out of business waiting to be repaid. The whole thing is a HUGE SCAM run by this state, that few people understand unless they research it. I’m sure it was formed by some very crafty lawyers for the entire purpose of screwing the consumer out of the CRV money, making as hard as humanly possible to get your money back. Most people I know just either throw the cans away, or put them in the blue recycle bin at their home.

    The idiot DemoRats in the state legislature caused this problem, and they’ve never fixed it. In fact, they don’t want to fix it, they want the CRV money but they don’t want to be responsible for the recycling end of the deal. Typical, and not a surprise. Whatever they’re trying to foist off on us now, you can be sure, is for their benefit only. This debacle will continue until it can’t anymore. Meanwhile, I’m planning on leaving this horrible state permanently as soon as I can.

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