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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