Wine & Beverage Industry Stops Bill To Overhaul and Expand Bottle Deposit System On Senate Floor

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Los Angeles, CA — A major reform bill to fix California’s broken bottle deposit system and get consumers back hundreds of millions in unredeemed deposits failed in the California Senate today after the wine and liquor industry joined with the beverage industry to unleash their lobbyists against the proposal.  The bill is now on the inactive file after failing on the floor last night with 17 votes in favor.

SB 372 (Wieckowski, D- Fremont) is modeled on successful deposit systems in other states that put the responsibility onto the beverage industry that profits from the containers to run the program. It also includes the wine and liquor industry in the program, overturning the industry’s long-held exemption. 

Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, EJ Gallo and associations representing distributors and producers donated roughly $1.3 million to individual lawmakers between 2017 and 2019 to continue to be exempt from the bottle deposit program. 

Wine country’s Senator Bill Dodd was a major opponent. Dodd famously walked out of a PG&E hearing on wildfire issues years ago, ending victim testimony quickly, so he could go to a wine fundraiser with the same lobbyists appearing before him. Many of those same lobbyists, caught on the video, were working against SB 372 last night. Watch the video of Dodd caught by Consumer Watchdog here:

Iowa and Maine’s wine industries participate in a bottle deposit program.  California’s wine industry continues to fight it by believing its political spending will continue to buy it an outrageous exemption from recycling. 

“Californians deserve an accessible redemption system to get their bottle and can deposits back, but the wine industry’s naked greed in continuing an unjustified exemption from the program stopped a common sense proposal today,” said Jamie Court, President of Consumer Watchdog.  “The scions of California wine, which accounts for 90% of the nation’s wine production, don’t want to be good environmental stewards or told what to do. Shame on Gallo, Mondavi, and the other first families of wine  that have gotten rich off California but refuse to give back to its fight against climate change. The wine industry needs to be part of the solution because today they are part of the problem.

“Californians need Governor Newsom’s leadership to make sure that California recycling and bottle deposit redemption programs work for consumers and the environment, not for the special interests in the beverage industry and for trash haulers, who get huge subsidies and cause  trash contamination problems through the single stream curbside process,” said Court. He vowed to continue the overhaul effort this year through other legislative vehicles.

Yesterday Newsom made comments at a speech at the Public Policy Institute of California suggesting he would be engaging on a recycling overhaul this year and already has made the reform a priority in his budget.

Currently, consumers pay about $1.5 billion a year in nickel and dime deposits and get little more than half that money, effectively turning the refundable deposit into a tax. The most successful programs deliver redemption rates as high as 98%.

California’s current system relies on a network of redemption centers that are closing in the face of severe state underpayments from recycling regulator CalRecycle. Retailers must take back bottles and cans only in places where centers have shuttered. Many refuse. California has lost more than half its redemption centers in the last six years leaving each center on average serving 32,000 consumers.

Characteristics of the most successful EPR programs include: making the beverage industry responsible for bottle deposit programs, setting high redemption targets, and requiring all major retailers of beverages responsible for refunding deposits and recycling empties.

The current bottle bill has been amended at least 75 times since it went into effect in 1987, but none of the amendments ever changed its fundamental, inefficient structure. Besides reforming its structure, SB 372 would also expand the deposit program to include wine and distilled spirits, which could raise more than $100 million annually for the program, according to the Container Recycling Institute.

“Opposition voiced by the wine, liquor and beverage distributor industries are based on naked greed, nothing other than a wanton desire to be free of responsibility to deal with climate change, disregard their stewardship roles and ignore the needs of consumers,” said Court. 

Bottle deposit recycling is 98% uncontaminated because of how the products are handled as opposed to extraordinary contamination rates curbside.

Read Court’s letter to the Senate about the beverage and wine industry’s self-interested and phony opposition here:


Jamie Court
Jamie Court
Consumer Watchdog's President and Chairman of the Board is an award-winning and nationally recognized consumer advocate. The author of three books, he has led dozens of campaigns to reform insurance companies, financial institutions, energy companies, political accountability and health care companies.

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