March 1, 2019

MONEY BACK: If California opened more recycling centers and charged higher container deposits, would you return cans and bottles?

That's the underlying premise of a new report by Consumer Watchdog. The group says it's a problem that Californians pay 5-cent deposit fees but are rarely returning containers themselves to get their cash back, reports POLITICO's Debra Kahn.

The report cites a wave of recycling-center closures around the state that has shifted the recycling business to local governments and companies that run curbside collection programs, which collect the fees instead of consumers. It estimates that of the $1.5 billion collected annually through 5-cent deposit fees on bottles and cans, $732 million is either being claimed by curbside operators, underreported by grocery stores that collect the fees or going unredeemed.

The report's authors said that increasing the redemption fee and building more recycling centers would encourage people to return their containers rather than rely on curbside haulers, which collect the fees themselves and typically factor them into their contracts. They attributed community opposition to the recycling centers to "NIMBYism" and said that consumers should have an expectation that they will recoup their payments.

"If you want to make it a tax, be honest about it, but it's not a tax," Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court said.

In response, CalRecycle noted that the recycling industry has been in decline worldwide and that the beverage container return rate is at 75 percent, below the state's current goal of 80 percent.