Closing Buyback Center Will Hurt Local Consumers, Increase Litter, Watchdog Groups Warns

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June 14, 2019

Friday’s closing of the Santa Monica Community Recycling Center will reduce consumers’ chances of getting their beverage container deposits back and increase litter on the city’s streets and beaches, consumer advocates said this week.

The “Buyback Center” at the Santa Monica City Yards was the last recycling facility to redeem bottles west of the 405 Freeway and one of more than 1,0000 recycling centers in California that have closed since 2013, according to Consumer Watchdog.

The fewer than 1,600 centers left each provides access to an average of 26,000 people, the group said.

“The City of Santa Monica has spent millions of dollars over the years to keep Santa Monica Bay clean and free of plastics,” said Susan Collins, executive director of the Container Recycling Institute, a non-profit organization founded in 1991.

“The closure of this facility will likely lead to an increase in beverage container litter on Santa Monica’s streets and beaches, and ultimately, into the Santa Monica Bay,” Collins said.

It will also make it harder for local residents to redeem their containers, since the two nearest recycling centers are in Culver City and Cheviot Hills.

Already, the deposits consumers pay when they purchase bottled beverages have become in effect a tax, said Jaime Court who heads Consumer Watchdog.

A three-month investigation by the group found that with recycling centers shutting down, California consumers only get back 2.65 cents for every nickel bottle deposit they pay in the checkout line.

“Bottle deposits are becoming a tax, rather than a deposit, when there are too few recycling centers and grocery stores are not living up to their responsibility to take back bottles and cans when there is no center in the area,” Court said.

The lack of access to recycling centers cost California consumers almost half of the $1.5 billion they paid in bottle deposits last year, according to Consumer Watchdog’s report.

Instead of redeeming the containers for the 24 billion beverages they purchase a year, consumers are tossing them away, the group said.

In a letter to CalEPA Secretary Jared Blumenfeld, Consumer Watchdog called for his agency to take immediate action.

“California’s system of recycling empty beverage containers is in crisis and needs your urgent action,” the group wrote.

“The trend will accelerate without a budget fix to help the recycling centers stay open another year.”

The letter calls on CalEPA to immediately buttress the remaining recycling centers by annually using 10 percent of the $360 million the deposit system has stockpiled.

The group acknowledges its proposal is a stopgap measure while a long-term solution to reform recycling is found.

Santa Monica’s Buyback Center is one of an increasing number of facilities that have shut down after China stopped accepting recyclables from the U.S. under its “Sword Policy” two years ago.

Since then, the City’s center went from reaping $300,000 a year in revenues to spending $275,000 a year to stay afloat (“Santa Monica Recycling Center to Close ‘Until Further Notice,'” June 11, 2019).

As a result, the City Council last month rejected a proposal from its recycling contractor the Allan Company to extend its $1 million a year contract for seven years with a three-year option.

The proposed contract also required a commitment from the City to rebuild its recycling center at 2411 Delaware Avenue.

Yvonne Yeung, principal administrative analyst for the City, said there is no plan to reopen the Buyback Center at the current site or at “another location in Santa Monica at this time.”

“The City is actively considering alternative options,” she said.

Consumer Watchdog
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