August 2, 2008
Bill proposes fees on more plastic containers to encourage California recycling
Consumers would pay a redemption fee on a broader range of plastic containers, from ketchup bottles to peanut butter jars, under a bill pending at the Capitol.
Proponents say the fee will encourage people to recycle more containers. But the measure may be facing an uphill battle: Its opponents include the Schwarzenegger administration agency that runs the recycling program, which could signal a veto.
Senate Bill 1625 would charge the fee on all plastic bottles, not just those containing beverages. Analysts say the measure would extend the fee to some 6.5 billion containers a year.
Sen. Ellen Corbett, the bill's author, said the measure is aimed in part at reducing water pollution.
"Plastic is a particularly serious marine debris problem," said Corbett, D-San Leandro. "Eighty percent of marine debris comes from urban litter. Plastic washes down the streets, down the storm drains, and floats out into the ocean."
But Bridgett Luther, the head of the state Department of Conservation, is worried that the bill would amount to a "heavy cost burden on consumers," according to a letter she sent to Corbett on June 25.
Citing grocery industry estimates, the department predicted the bill would result in an increase of roughly $12.50 to $25 in grocery bills per person in California each year.
The department's letter also said there had been "minimal discussion" regarding the recycling infrastructure's ability to safely handle the increase in recycled goods, particularly the presence of toxic chemicals in the containers and the rats and flies that it claims would inevitably follow.
The redemption program charges a five-cent deposit on plastic containers under 24 ounces and 10 cents on larger containers.
Corbett's bill would also charge the redemption fee for plastic bottles holding food, household products and other goods. Wines, distilled spirits and milk would remain exempt.
Last year, about two-thirds of the 22 billion beverage containers sold in California were returned for redemption, according to the state. Of the total sold, about a third were plastic, which had a recycling rate of about 55 percent.
Corbett said that a bump in the California Redemption Value, or CRV, fee in 2006, followed by a jump in the recycling rate the following year, inspired the bill.
"If we expand the program to include more containers that can be recycled and redeemed, we'll have more overall recycling," Corbett said.
During the fiscal year that ended in June, the state took in almost $1.2 billion from CRV revenue, with about $366 million collected on plastic bottles. The bill would bring in an estimated $330 million more, based on current recycling rates, according to Corbett.
Most of the CRV revenue that the state takes in goes to city governments that collect recycling, often through contracts with private companies that operate curbside recycling services.
Opponents of the bill, including the California Chamber of Commerce and several manufacturing associations, cite the program's price increase on goods as one of many concerns.
Jason Schmeizer, a chamber policy advocate, said in a letter to lawmakers that manufacturers may move away from plastic containers to avoid the CRV, that this could result in "unintended environmental consequences," and that "glass and bi-metal non-beverage containers should likewise be included in the proposed expansion."
The governor has not taken a position on the bill, according to spokeswoman Rachel Cameron.
Waste Management Inc., the nation's largest waste and recycling company, is listed among supporters for the bill.
The increased CRV revenue would mean more money coming back to local governments, and could result in lower rates for customers, according to Kent Stoddard, vice president of public affairs for the company. Curbside pickup services are becoming more expensive due to the increased price of diesel fuel and the CRV helps to offset these costs, he said.
The bill has passed the Senate, and remains under review in the Assembly.