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Senator Bob Wieckowski. (Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

Statewide Recycling Overhaul Bill Fails in Senate

The can and bottle buyback SB 372 lands four votes short

By Evan Symon, January 31, 2020 2:55 pm

The nearly year-old Senate Bill 372, which would have required that beverage makers and distributors create their own system for buying back bottles and cans, was struck down in the Senate Thursday.

A new can and bottle recycling system

Senator Bob Wieckowski. (Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

Authored by Senator Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont), a longtime backer of recycling and environmental bills, SB 372 would have replaced the current system of consumers bringing their empty bottles and cans to a recycling center. Instead, beverage companies would have had to find a better way to buy them back, which would have most likely been the ‘reverse vending machines’ currently found in Oregon and Michigan. The machines, which had been tried out in California before, would have accepted bottles and cans in exchange for cash or store credit.

SB 372 would have also created a ‘Beverage Container Recycling Program’ to over see the system and would have expanded bottle recycling to include wine and liquor bottles.

Earlier this month SB 372 had been gaining momentum for passage. It went quickly through through different Senate Committees, and despite pressure from beverage and wine industry lobbyists, Senator Wieckowski said he had the votes. He had even amended the bill to ensure consumers wouldn’t see higher costs. But on Wednesday the bill was short votes in the Senate, and despite a reconsideration, it was rejected for good on Thursday. It was four votes shy of passage.

Failure of SB 372

Supporters such as Senator Wieckowski, environmental advocates, and recycling groups decried the failure of the bill, citing industry lobbyists and a push by recycling center owners to stop the bill.

“It’s a setback for consumers who are looking to us to transform a broken system that is crumbling before our eyes,” said Senator Wieckowski in a statement after the vote on Thursday.

Sarah Cornish, an environmental policy expert, noted the effects of the rejection.

“Everyone will still have to go to recycling centers still if they want their deposit back. It’s not easy for a lot of people, any many will still just throw away.

So many other states have discovered that, under a similar program to what the bill proposed, recycling rates shoot up.

The sad thing is, California needs this. Less people are recycling, and there’s a need for scrap aluminium.”

In addition to most of the industry opposing the bill, SB 372 largely failed because of inherent problems in the bill, such as shutting out the entire recycling industry from the process, no clear recycling system that companies could implement by the 2024 deadline, and lingering feelings about past issues in California with reverse vending machines.

Recycling centers saved for now

Recycling center operators and many in the beverage industry applauded the vote by the Senate.

“Recycling centers have been failing,” said Nick Harrison, who coordinates the sale of recycled materials for recycling centers in California. “Metal prices have been going down, despite the need for some materials, like aluminum, staying up.”

“I’ve seen a lot of recycling centers in California close down because of the operation costs. And I’ve seen less people bring cans in when I’m at some of the centers.”

“The bill would have killed all of them. Now they have a shot at surviving at least.”

“If you move the deposit up to something higher, or if we dip into another recession and people suddenly need money, they’ll get healthier. Today, well, today we simply survived.”

After the defeat, Senator Wieckowski said that he would be working with the Governor’s office on fixing California’s recycling system and would also work on passing other environmental bills this year.

A new bill concerning a bottle and can recycling re-haul is not expected for the rest of the session.

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