To force nearly 40 million state residents to recycle more and send them more deposits, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration on Friday unveiled a plan to temporarily double to a penny the return for a 12-ounce (355-milliliter) bottle or jar. California already pays 10 cents for containers over 24 ounces (709 milliliters), and that’s temporarily doubling to 20 cents.
The move will make California one of the highest paid recycling programs in the country. Rachel Machi Wagoner, director of the California Department of Recycling and Restoring Resources, said the effort would help California become the leader in waste recycling it once was 35 years ago when it began its cashback program.
If someone in California buys regular-sized soda, a 5-cent fee is charged, which can be recouped if the container is returned for recycling. Under the Newsom plan, the deposit fee will remain the same, but the refund amount will double. The goal is to increase the recycling rate of beverage containers from 70% to at least 80%.
Oregon and Michigan are already offering a 10-cent return, and advocacy groups say the amount for each glass or plastic bottle or aluminum can was enough to get consumers to recycle at least nine out of every 10 containers.
Jamie Court, president of the Consumer Watchdog advocacy group, a frequent critic of the recycling program, called the plan a “very positive step” and a “bold offer to give people back their money.”
“This money is of no use to anyone if you sit in a bank,” the court said. “We need a complete structural fix, but it’s a good intermediate step.”
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California’s proposal supports recent national efforts to intensify recycling as beverage distributors face increased pressure to incorporate a higher percentage of recycled material into their containers, said National Board of Trustees Executive Director Heidi Sanborn.
Only 10 of the 50 states now have deposit programs, but many are considering them – potentially creating confusing patches and beverage labels full of deposits from different states, which she says distributors want to avoid.
The doubling of returns in California will be temporary – the duration of the change has not yet been determined – and is expected to cost $ 100 million. If approved by the legislature, the return increase will take effect sometime during the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
It is uncertain whether any increase in recycling will continue if the price increase ends, Sanborn admitted, but she hopes that instead California will decide to make this increase permanent. She also hopes that pressure from the states will spur attempts by U.S. envoy Alan Lowenthal of California and U.S. Senator Jeff Merklee of Oregon to draft a national bottle bill.
The Newsom plan is also trying to ease a bottleneck that began a few years ago when more district recycling centers closed, and Consumer Watchdog said many grocery stores also refuse to take back empty items in stores as needed.
To increase access, the Newsom administration is proposing to spend $ 100 million on grants to add about 2,000 automated recycling machines, also known as reverse vending machines, to high schools, colleges and retail chains. Consumers dump empty containers into machines that return the money.
Another $ 55 million will go to state-funded mobile recycling programs in rural areas and elsewhere with small recycling options.
Consumers are very upset that “they can’t return their bottles and cans and get their money back as promised,” said Sanborn, who also heads California’s state commission for recycling and recycling markets.
Sanborn has blamed the closure of many California recycling centers for the state’s inability to quickly adjust its complex payment formula to changing changing market conditions.
A lot of recyclables from California are sent to China, which in 2017 tightened standards for receiving contaminated materials, including plastics. The move has “completely hit the recycling industry” across the country, said Kate O’Neill of the University of California, Berkeley, a professor of environmental sciences and author of the 2019 book Waste.
The U.S. market is recovering now with the addition of domestic recycling companies, but there is still the problem of matching supply with demand, O’Neill said.
Processing officials expected beverage consumption to decline during the pandemic, as during most economic downturns, Wagoner said. Instead, container sales in California rose 2.5 billion in three years to $ 27 billion last fiscal year, a record number of deposits coming into the state recycling fund.
The number of recycled containers returning to California, meanwhile, has reached a record high in 2021 – more than 18.8 billion – but it still leaves a lot of money on the table.
Repeated attempts to improve the state’s recycling system have caused difficulties in the legislature, even as California tries to increase recycling rates, minimize food waste, and work toward a circular economy.
Wagoner said Friday’s proposal is an intermediate step as the administration continues talks with lawmakers on ongoing amendments.
Democratic Sen. Bob Wetkowski said last year he tried to pass a bill with proposals similar to those proposed by the administration, “and they didn’t want to hear about it.” He expects people to now stockpile their recyclables before the double buyout period and then face long queues as soon as it starts.
His proposal this year places more responsibility on manufacturers for recycling their containers.
“It’s a bit tricky,” Vetskovsky said of the state plan. “We have 45 patches in this program, and someday you’ll have to go out of business with a patch.”
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