San Francisco, CA — You can leave your heart in San Francisco, but now you can’t find a single grocery store or bodega in the city to return your bottles and cans for your nickel or dime CRV deposit.
In a blow to recycling, the state of California has let more than 400 grocery, liquor and other stores in San Francisco out of their obligations to redeem bottles and cans under the pretense that a pilot project, a mobile truck, would pick up the slack. The pilot project is not even up and running.
KGO-TV’s Consumer Reporter Michael Finney broke the story: https://www.consumerwatchdog.org/kgo-sf-abc-getting-your-crv-money-san-francisco
Two redemption centers on the edge of town are now the only places where San Franciscans can claim their CRV deposit.
“San Francisco is the poster child for the failure of convenience in our bottle deposit law and the ineptitude of the government handlers of the system that have allowed fewer and fewer points of return to get your CRV back,” said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog. “We need Governor Newsom to engage on the issue to create a more convenient recycling system if he wants to live up this pledge of a creating a circular economy.”
For some time, only one redemption center at the outskirts of the city has served San Francisco. Recently, a second location has opened less than a half mile away. Both locations are on the southeast side of the City and serve a population of close to 900,000 residents and businesses. However, with the absence of more centers, grocery and retail stores have had a legal obligation to pick up the slack and allow for consumers to redeem their deposits and return CRV containers in their stores.
That is until July 1, when CalRecycle, the Newsom Administration agency in charge of recycling, let those retailers out of their obligation.
The law requires if there is no redemption center in a “convenience zone,” defined as a half mile radius from a store with annual sales of $2 million dollars, then all stores and dealers that sell CRV products have to take back bottles and cans and redeem nickel and dime CRV deposits that they charged the consumers. Or the stores can opt out and pay $100 a day, $3,000 per month to not have to redeem the CRV cans and bottles.
As of May 2021, the Cal Recycle website listed more than 450 retail stores in San Francisco willing to take back empties and redeem the CRV deposit to consumers. Another, approximately 70 stores opted to pay the $3,000 per month to the state – that’s $210,000 per month. These stores included CVS Pharmacy, Safeway, Trader Joes, and Whole Foods.
That all changed when the state certified a pilot project on July 1st for San Francisco after making great hay about it at a June 10th press conference. A mobile bag drop program where trucks, operated by the Local Conservation Corps, will go to three locations three times per week and pick up bottles and cans has still not begun.
The fine print in legislation authored by San Francisco’s Assembly Member Phil Ting, AB 54, said that when the state certified a pilot project in the city it let the grocers and retailers off the hook for their retail take back obligation. Stores are relieved of their in-store take back responsibility, if the pilot program is operational, regardless of how many hours the program is available. If it ever gets up and running, the San Francisco pilot program is supposed to be available three days per week in three different locations, for 10-12 hours per week in each location.
(AB 54 (2018) SEC. 2. Section 14571.9 of the Public Resources Code is amended to read: 14571.9. 2 (b) (1) Notwithstanding Sections 14570, 14571, and 14571.6, a convenience zone that falls within the area of a pilot project approved by the department under this section shall be deemed served while the pilot project is operational.)
The bag drop pilot program has not become operational, nor available for San Francisco residents. However, Cal Recycle, as of July 1st, has determined that the pilot program is operational because the host recycling center — operational prior to the pilot program — has created a designated lane to take back CRV containers that the pilot program would accept. The trucks aren’t even up and running yet.
That was enough for the state regulator, CalRecycle, to allow the 450 grocery stores out of their take back obligation and 70 stores out of their financial obligations to pay $210,000 per month.
“Phil Ting is no doubt the San Francisco grocery association’s man of the decade,” said Court.
Meanwhile San Franciscans are left with the two existing location in the entire city to get their nickels and dimes back.
Consumer advocates and insiders say the Pilot Project is a Trojan Horse to allow grocers and retailers out of their obligation to be redeemers of last resort.
“The sad thing about the pilot program is that the stores and dealers are relieved of their in store take back obligations, yet they are not required to participate in the pilot program or provide any financial support to ensure the program will be sustainable and operational in the future,” said Court.
California’s redemption rate is 58% — the 3rd lowest among bottle deposit programs – and if weak pilot projects replace grocery and retailer take back obligations the rate at which consumers get their CRV back will fall even more.
A recent analysis by the Container Recycling Institute finds that three quarters of a million tons of greenhouse gases were emitted to replace those bottles and cans not recycled in California with ones made from scratch. That was the equivalent of adding more than 160,000 cars onto California’s roads. Read the analysis here: https://www.consumerwatchdog.org/energy/failure-bottle-deposit-program-costing-californians-750000-tons-greenhouse-gases-equivalent