By Kevin Smith, SAN BERNARDINO SUN

August 18, 2020

https://www.sbsun.com/2020/08/18/consumer-group-fears-californias-recyc…

California’s already hobbled recycling network will likely collapse unless supermarkets and other beverage retailers are forced to redeem empty bottles and cans, a consumer group says.

In a letter sent Tuesday to Gov. Gavin Newsom, Consumer Watchdog expressed dismay over his recent 60-day extension of an executive order that allows supermarkets and other outlets “to deny legally required redemption services to California consumers.”

Newsom extended the order on June 22 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It allows retailers to temporarily pause in-store redemption of beverage containers to help curb the spread of the virus. The order also temporarily suspends the requirement for recycling centers to hold a minimum number of hours of operation.

“It is critical to continue to protect the public health and safety and minimize the risk of COVID-19 exposure for workers engaged in essential activities, such as those handling recyclable containers where recycling centers are not available,” the order said.

The exemption expires Friday, Aug. 21 and the Los Angeles-based nonprofit is imploring the governor to avoid another 60-day extension.

“These exemptions are a disaster that unnecessarily and severely restrict access to refunds of consumer bottle deposits totaling hundreds of millions of dollars annually,” the letter said. “A growing segment of the population, including those who recently joined California’s now 7 million unemployed, depends on deposit refunds to meet basic expenses.”

In an interview Tuesday, Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court addressed health concerns related to workers handling empty cans and bottles amid the pandemic.

“Reality shows that transmission of the virus essentially occurs person-to-person,” he said. “Grocery stores and other retailers have obviously gotten into a rhythm (of safety protocols) and are up and running now. And it’s pretty clear that if you just wear gloves it’s easy to handle the the cans and bottles that are being redeemed.”

Consumer Watchdog notes that more than half of the state’s recycling centers have closed since 2013 and that many communities are now container recycling “deserts.”

Humboldt and Santa Barbara counties have no open redemption centers, the letter said, and San Francisco is down to one center for 883,305 people. But Alameda County has six centers that each serve about 277,792 people, while Santa Clara County’s eight facilities each serve about 242,196.

“Some redemption centers are overwhelmed as more consumers enter the ranks of the unemployed,” Court said.

California’s largest chain of recycling centers, rePlanet, closed its remaining 284 locations a year ago. Consumer Watchdog subsequently called on CALRecycle, the state agency in charge of recycling, to require the retail outlets to begin redeeming bottles and cans for cash.

David Lawrence, rePlanet’s president and chief financial officer, linked the closures to a variety of factors, including a reduction in state fees, the depressed pricing of recycled aluminum and PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic and a rise in operating costs resulting from minimum wage increases and required health and workers compensation insurance.

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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. [email protected]