Should Stores Be Required To Take Back The Empty Containers They Sell?

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By Michael Finney, KGO ABC TV-7 – San Francisco, CA

March 4, 2019

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — Convenience is not a new idea. Your grandparents had milk delivered to their doorsteps. Kids on bikes threw newspapers on driveways and when a coke was bought, it was returned to the same store for the nickel deposit.

The milkman is gone, but now there is GrubHub bringing nutrition to your door. Newspapers still get delivered, but to our computer screens. But getting your deposit back… that is an entirely different story.

I asked Jade Landon when was the last time she returned a container to get the five cent deposit.

“When I was a child in Chicago,” she told me she returned the bottles with her grandmother. “She passed when I was about 15 or so, so that was the last time I went into a facility to get the deposit back.”

Most of us are like Jade. We forego the hassle of returning the cans and bottles, and forgo our nickels, too. We let curbside recyclers take our deposit containers away.

However, now even that is becoming a hassle. Collection companies have been issuing tickets for not recycling correctly.

State law says stores must either take back containers, be with in a half a mile of a recycling center or pay the state $100 a day. More and more stores are opting to pay and that makes it harder for consumers to get their nickels back.

Executive Director of San Francisco Community Recyclers, Ed Dunn, says the numbers tell the story.

“We had 22 recycling centers in 2012,” he tells me, “Now we have nine, all restricted to the industrial areas of town.”

So recyclers are disappearing, well-meaning environmentalists are getting fined and Consumer Watchdog has come up with a plan.

Adam Scow is with the consumer group, “We want to help consumers get their money back.”

Last week, Consumer Watchdog released a study showing California has lost 1000 recycling centers, and consumers more than $300 million a year in unclaimed deposit money. The reports suggests changing things by setting a redemption target of 90 percent, consider raising the container deposit and expand the number of recycling locations by having stores take back the containers they sell.

Adam Scow says, “Our recycling rate in California is only at 75 percent. It used to be in the 80s. Michigan is at 92 percent. The reason why is Michigan requires every store to take back the empties on site.”

The California Grocers Association says not so fast. Stores aren’t set up to be recyclers and consumers are not all on board.

“Their customers are saying I don’t want them to throw a bunch of cans on the conveyor belt where I am going to put my food and run it through the register,” says the associations, says Dave Heylen, the association’s VP of communications.

Grocers would rather change the recycling rules allowing for a mile and a half zone, rather than just a half a mile. The association believes that would help make recycling operations profitable again and we would see more of them setting up shop.

Consumer Watchdog
Consumer Watchdog
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