A representative with CalRecycle disputes that claim.
By Kevin Smith, THE DAILY NEWS OF LOS ANGELES
A watchdog group claims California consumers left $60 million in unredeemed bottle and can deposits with the state in the first six months of 2020 amid plunging redemption rates and a deepening economic crisis for California’s recycling centers.
Drawing upon data from CalRecycle, the state’s recycling regulator, Consumer Watchdog calculates the redemption rate — that at which consumers directly redeem deposits — dropped to 60.2% from 66% during that period.
The decline occurred despite an 8.4% uptick in deposit beverage sales as more Californians stayed at home during the COVID-19 pandemic and stocked up instead of buying drinks at restaurants and other entertainment venues, the Los Angeles-based group alleges.
Consumer Watchdog said those sales generated an additional $56 million in deposit money collected by supermarkets from consumers and paid to the state in fiscal 2019-20, which ended June 30.
Waste haulers, they claim, collected $10 million more from the state as a result, as more Californians threw away empties or put them in recycling bins.
CalRecycle spokesman Lance Klug disputes those numbers, saying data from the pandemic period has yet to be calculated.
“CalRecycle will release finalized data for the first half of 2020 in the coming weeks after the department completes the necessary review to verify accuracy,” he said Friday, adding that the pre-COVID recycling rate was 75%.
Preliminary data from CalRecycle shows deposit redemptions went down for two months when most of the state was sheltering in place during the early stages of the pandemic, Klug said. Redemption rates have since increased with the state’s phased reopening.
Klug said the additional $10 million payment to waste haulers occurred in the 2019-20 fiscal year because the annual 2020-21 December payment was advanced to haulers six months early to help keep businesses open during the health crisis.
California’s recycling network has been severely hobbled as more than half of the state’s recycling centers have closed since 2013. The state’s largest chain of recycling centers, rePlanet, closed its remaining 284 locations more than a year ago.
Some communities have become recycling “deserts” as a result, leaving consumers with nowhere to return bottles and cans.
The California legislature has authorized CalRecycle to approve up to five pilot projects to help communities overcome local redemption challenges, such as high rents and neighborhood resistance to recycling centers.
In March, the agency issued a report to the Legislature, as directed by Assembly Bill 54, on ways to reduce or eliminate public costs of supporting recycling centers while preserving the public’s ability to redeem beverage containers.
Gov. Gavin Newsom recently signed legislation to drive market demand by requiring manufacturers to use at least 50 percent of recycled materials in bottles and cans by 2030.
Consumer Watchdog said California is the only state that pays haulers consumer deposits from bottles and cans thrown into recycling bins, while also paying them for processing the empties.
The organization is imploring Newsom to address the problem.
Liza Tucker, the group’s consumer advocate, said consumers aren’t getting back the nickel and dime deposits they were promised, in part because there aren’t enough redemption centers in California.
“As a leader in fighting climate change, it’s time for the governor to take leadership in reforming our bottle deposit law to guarantee greater and more effective recycling and a redemption rate of 90% to rival states that have done the bottle deposit program correctly,” Tucker said in a statement.
The watchdog group notes that Oregon’s redemption rate for bottle and can deposits is 90%, followed by Michigan (89%), Maine (84%) and Iowa and Vermont (both at 71%).
California’s bottle deposit system, the group said, relies on a shrinking number of redemption centers and a rigid and outdated financing mechanism to sustain the ones that are still in operation.
Consumer Watchdog’s report, “Trashed: How California Recycling and How to Fix It,” urges Newsom to create a new bottle deposit system in which beverage companies are responsible for recycling their own containers.
Kevin Smith handles business news and editing for the Southern California News Group, which includes 11 newspapers, websites and social media channels. He covers everything from employment, technology and housing to retail, corporate mergers and business-based apps. Kevin often writes stories that highlight the local impact of trends occurring nationwide. And the focus is always to shed light on why those issues matter to readers in Southern California.