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October 16, 2009

Plastics Recycling Update

California bottle bill veto could have severe results

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's decision to veto Senate Bill 402 not only thwarts any possible expansion to the California Redemption Value (CRV) system, but it also could have dire consequences for the Golden State's 22-year-old deposit beverage container redemption program.

Supported by such entities as in-state retailers, bottled water groups, municipalities, environmental organizations and beer producers, SB 402 would have expanded the CRV program to, as of July 1, 2010, include juices and other fruit drinks sold in paperboard and aseptic packaging; soy, nut, rice and other grain beverages, regardless of their container type; and large bottles of fruit juice. According to state officials, the move would have added an additional 1.5 billion beverage containers to the deposit program. However, in his veto message, Schwarzenegger claimed that CRV would have been applied to products that likely would have ended up in landfill, as, according to the governor, "there are, at present, no known California end-users for the material types SB 402 adds to the program."

Most importantly, though, had the bill been approved, it would have helped bring the state's Beverage Container Recycling Fund (BCRF) back into balance — a fund that, since the turn of the century, has had nearly $500 million taken from it, with those monies being redistributed to other sources, including the state's General Fund and its Air Resources Board (for planning of the state's Global Warming Solutions Act). According to Susan Collins, executive director of the Container Recycling Institute, "Because SB 402 didn't pass, the fund is now looking at having $110 million less than it otherwise would've had in this fiscal year." This brings us to the real problem at hand.

The imbalance in the BCRF has already forced the state's Department of Conservation (DOC) to cut $131 million in funding for local governments, local conservation corps recycling efforts, payments for supermarket-based recycling and curbside recycling programs, recycling market development and other performance-based incentives for recycling. On top of that, because of Schwarzenegger's rejection of the measure, and in order to save money, the state may now be compelled to reduce processors payments by as much as 85 percent. Not good news when 90 percent of all CRV material is handled by either traditional return centers (e.g., scrap yards) or supermarket-sited handling, and non-handling, fee return centers.

The DOC just called a public meeting for next Tuesday, at which cuts in excess of the aforementioned 85-percent will be discussed, further adding to return centers' woes.

Upon hearing the news of the governor's veto, environmental advocacy organization Californians Against Waste (CAW) issued a press release detailing the severe program changes that will likely occur because of the 85-percent cut in funding. Those program changes include, in conjunction with the aforementioned program funding cuts, the elimination of 5,000 recycling-related jobs and the closing of nearly 1,200 supermarket-based recycling centers. This is unfortunate because, as stated by Collins, "some 600 California grocery stores are already unserved by recycling centers and, without relief, they will be obligated to take containers inside their stores." Sources close to the situation are speculating that, if recycling centers are to close because of the lack of funding, then grocery stores will be forced to redeem used beverage containers at the register (which is already a fall-back option included in the current deposit law).

The California CRV crisis will be covered in detail in the November issues of Resource Recycling and sister publication, Plastics Recycling Update. Click here to subscribe.

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