You Can’t Save The World If You Can’t Get Recycling Right

Published on


November 27, 2019

You can’t save the world if you can’t get recycling right

Recycling is garbage.

That’s rapidly becoming the only logical conclusion to draw from a series of failed and failing policies that seem to be throwing your money in the trash.

While it may be heresy even to think such thoughts — a mob of angry kindergartners may try to burn me as a witch — it may be time to rethink the whole idea that recycling is saving the planet. Recyclables are ending up in landfills.

In July 2017, China notified the World Trade Organization that it would impose strict new standards for the recyclables it would accept from around the world. The previous year, China had taken 62 percent of California’s recyclables, but that came to a halt on January 1, 2018. China sniffed that California’s recyclables were too contaminated.

Even before China changed its policy, California was having trouble meeting the targets in a 2011 state law that set a statewide goal of 75 percent “diversion” of waste from landfills by 2020. In 2016, according to CalRecycle, California’s overall disposal in landfills increased for the fourth consecutive year.

Purportedly in an effort to meet the state’s goal, the Los Angeles City Council approved a new monopoly trash-hauling program called RecycLA. It imposed new restrictions on the volume of trash that businesses and multi-family residential buildings could throw out. The monopoly franchises quickly resulted in a doubling and tripling of trash-hauling costs, and apparently a lot of extra trash with nowhere to go.

That may be why Los Angeles is currently enduring a plague of piled-up garbage. The city council just approved a new ordinance that triples the fines for illegal dumping. The first violation draws a fine of $250, the second is $500, and the third is $1,000 and possible jail time.

Before the city started this program, businesses could hire the trash hauler of their choice and throw out as much trash as necessary. And now we have RecycLA and we’re talking about jail time.

There’s more garbage with California’s bottle deposit program, created by a 1986 state law.

To ensure that there were enough recycling centers to meet consumer demand, policymakers divided the state into 4,000 “convenience zones” and required beverage retailers with more than $2 million in annual revenue to help establish independently-run recycling centers in their zone. The state pays extra fees to recycling centers located on supermarket properties.

But then the program fell victim to the scourge of government planners everywhere — math.

RePlanet, the largest operator of recycling centers in California, closed all 284 of its locations in August and laid off 750 employees.

“With the continued reduction in state fees, the depressed pricing of recycled aluminum and PET plastic, and the rise in operating costs resulting from minimum wage increases and required health and workers compensation insurance, the Company has concluded that operation of these recycling centers and supporting operations is no longer sustainable,” a spokesman for RePlanet said in a statement.

According to Consumer Watchdog, about half of the recycling centers in the state have closed in the past six years.

Technically, the law requires supermarkets and other large retailers to accept the return of bottles and cans and pay the deposits back to consumers. But some retailers contend that they have sanitation and implementation issues with accepting the returns, and the law allows them to pay a $100 fine per day, per store, to avoid dealing with it.

Consumer Watchdog issued a report last spring that cited “accounting scams” as one of problems plaguing the program. “The beverage industry routinely scams the bottle recycling program by undercounting, miscoding, and failing to report sales,” the report said. “In the rare case an audit is performed, the state has found millions of dollars undercounted. Companies are not fined for stealing this money from consumers and the program and cases are not publicized.”

And here we go again. We start out talking about garbage, and we end up talking about jail time.

Maybe it was just a bad idea to create a government program that handles hundreds of millions of dollars in loose change. Maybe the government should just pick up the trash.

Heresy, I know. See you at the witch trial.

Susan Shelley is an editorial writer and columnist for the Southern California News Group. [email protected]. Twitter: @Susan_Shelley

Consumer Watchdog
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