By Simon Fletcher, CNN CANADIAN NEWS NETWORK
March 1, 2019
A consumer watchdog in the Golden State has revealed that recycling conscious Californians being ripped off by an outdated collection system.
A new report has outlined how environmentally friendly Californians are being short-changed by a flawed system and lack of basic recycling infrastructure. The result is that consumers are losing out on hundreds of millions of dollars each year.
Want to Recycle. Can’t Recycle.
California is one of the United States most recycling friendly states but consumers are finding it increasingly difficult to return their recyclables. This is in large part due to the closure of over 40 percent of California’s recycling centers in the last 5 years.
Not only have the number of recycling centers decreased massively in number but the report also states that many grocery stores are now simply refusing to take back empties.
According to Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court:
"Californians plunk down a nickel for their cans but increasingly they’re only getting half that nickel back on average. Consumers are losing, the environment is losing."
Blame Laid at the Door of the Authorities
In a state proud of the role its residents play in protecting the environment, the report states that local authorities are to blame for the current situation. The report suggests that state regulators should be more aggressively going after retailers that won’t redeem containers or that undercount the number of deposits that they collect.
The report also states that they believe the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, known as CalRecycle, should be doing much more to promote recycling centers and punish the companies which are hoarding deposits.
Mark Oldfield, spokesman for CalRecycle had this to say in response to the report:
"Overall, the program has been highly successful, but recent years have brought challenges."
Oldfield also said that CalRecycle is actively looking into ways to help increase buy-back locations. CalRecycle also believes the amount of unredeemed deposits is only $272 million, but the consumer group behind the report says this omits administrative fees which brings the total to over $300 million.
Deposit Increase the Answer
The report suggests that doubling the amount of deposits to a dime for each glass, plastic bottle, or aluminum can could be the answer to the problem. This would see California brought into line with states such as Michigan and Oregon where recycling numbers are higher.
In Oregon, nine out of every ten containers are recycled. In California, three out of every four containers are recycled, but this also includes those containers redeemed by bulk haulers and not only individual consumers.
Change on the Horizon
With the consumer report highlighting huge issues with California’s recycling program, Democratic state Sen. Henry Stern has also recognized that the current system needs changing.
Stern has proposed a bill that would restrict which retailers must accept containers and provide around $3 million in incentives to low-volume recycling centers so that they can keep their doors open.
Stern says his bill will help smaller “mom and pop” grocery stores whilst also restoring incentives for recycles. He added:
A lot more work has to be done in this area and I’m hoping to work with consumer advocates to make sure people are getting a fair shake here.
$300 Million Consumer Losses Could Really Be $500 Million
The Consumer Watchdog claims that unclaimed deposits are not the only place where consumers are being ripped off in California when it comes to recycling.
The report alleges that consumers are missing out in hundreds of millions of dollars more, including $200 million per year just from the deposits that are currently going to commercial trash haulers and bulk collectors.