Consumer Watchdog Breaks Down The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly Of Bottle Deposit Reform Legislation

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Los Angeles, CA — A landmark new package of laws expanding and reforming the broken bottle deposit system could increase consumer access to bottle deposit refunds if the rules are properly crafted. However, the reforms also come with unjustifiable pork for special interests at the expense of consumer redemption access and robust system modernization, Consumer Watchdog said today.  

“This package of bottle bill reform legislation has the potential to fix the system and improve consumer access to redemption as long as regulators get the details right,” said consumer advocate Liza Tucker.
 
Here is the summary of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in the package of three pieces of bottle bill legislation—SB 1013, AB 179, and SB 38:
 
Good:  
 
Adds wine and spirits to the bottle deposit program to expand collection of higher quality glass, plastic, and aluminum through redemption centers rather than via curbside collection programs that produce lower quality materials.
 
•Mandates that the biggest beverage dealers in the state redeem California Redemption Value (CRV) bottle deposits by taking containers in consumer “convenience zones” lacking redemption centers, starting in 2025. Beverage dealers have the option of forming cooperatives to provide redemption service.
 
•Bans beverage dealers in areas where no redemption centers exist from being able to buy their way out of recycling by paying the state a $100 daily fee starting in 2025.
 
•Provides $220,000 million over three years to cover startup costs for recycling programs, modern technology from reverse vending machines to bag drops and for dealer cooperatives, plus $30 million dollars in startup loans for processors and recyclers, termed by the Container Recycling Institute (CRI) as a good use of funds.
 
Bans cash payments between recyclers and processors that buy CRV materials for resale to manufacturers to help slash fraud of up to $200 million a year in stolen bottle deposits as well as tax evasion.
 
Bad:  
 
•Denies state “handling fee” payments to individual retailers that want to take containers back instore (only cooperatives can get payments) starting in 2025.

• Expands areas called consumer “convenience zones” that require at least one redemption center location or for stores to have to take back.  Expanding the size of convenience zones will likely mean less consumer access to redemption and more inconvenience.
 
Money allocated lacks details, definitions, or deadlines for granting the money, which will be sorted out in the regulatory process.  
 
Ugly:  
 
•Allocates a total $300 million dollars over five years to glass container makers for recycling infrastructure that already exists. As CRI puts it, “All available material is already being bought, thus there is no need to ‘stimulate markets’ with these market development payments.” This free money does not expand consumer access to convenient redemption.
 
•According to CRI’s calculations, SB 1013’s addition of wine and distilled spirits to the bottle program creates a new, annual revenue stream to curbside programs of roughly $46 million by allowing waste haulers to bill the state for wine and liquor CRV deposits from bottles thrown into curbside bins “while the public will receive no new goods or services in exchange for the $46 million of new public spending,” CRI writes. This is free money for curbside programs with no requirement to improve the quality of the materials collected and does nothing to expand consumer access to redemption.
 
•SB 1013 raises glass “quality incentive payments” to curbside programs from $10 million annually to $15 million annually with no end date, according to CRI. The payments go to two glass processing companies to reduce the cost to curbside programs of taking dirty glass of their hands. An additional $50 millionin the Governor’s budget is allocated on a one-time basis as quality incentive payments for both glass and plastic collected by curbside programs. None of these payments improve the quality of glass and plastic, nor do they increase consumer access to redemption.

•Allocates a total of $40 million to collect thermoform plastics (think clamshell food containers)—plastics that do not carry a deposit under the bottle bill.  This legalizes the use of consumers’ unredeemed deposits to support and collect a non-bottle bill item. Who will be paid these monies is a mystery because there are no facilities in California currently purchasing and recycling thermoforms to receive the money.
 
“The most important reforms are the expansion of the program to include wine and hard liquor bottles as well as measures to ensure that big beverage dealers participate in recycling,” said consumer advocate Liza Tucker.  
 
“Unfortunately, the biggest amounts of money go to pork while too little goes into improving redemption access in the form of rules that will incentivize individual retailers to provide widespread convenience by installing modern technology, as well as meaningful financial support for dying redemption centers and to open new ones.”

– 30 –

Liza Tucker
Liza Tucker
Liza Tucker is a consumer advocate for Consumer Watchdog, following everything from oil and gas to the regulation of toxic substances in the state of California. She comes to us from Marketplace, the largest U.S. broadcast show on business and economics heard by ten million listeners each week on 400 radio stations. Liza worked at this public radio show for a decade, first as Commentary Editor and then as Senior Editor for both Washington and Sustainability News.

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