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February 27, 2009

Inside Bay Area

State should expand bottle bill, councilman says

UNION CITY — Of the more than 600 million wine and liquor bottles produced in California each year, less than 30 percent are recycled, according to one environmental research group.

Alarmed by the amount of recyclable materials ending up in landfills, Union City Councilman Richard Valle is leading an effort to get lawmakers to include wine and liquor bottles in the California Redemption Value buyback program.

The state's "bottle bill" grants consumers who recycle empty aluminum cans, plastic bottles and certain glass bottles a 5- to 10-cent reimbursement per container at buyback centers.

Including wine and liquor bottles in the program would result in at least 175,000 tons of containers being diverted from landfills, and local governments that provide curbside recycling would be reimbursed an additional $33 million each year, Valle said, citing statistics from the research and advocacy group Californians Against Waste.

"It's a win-win — for the economy (and) we get more materials out of landfills. It's the right thing to do," said Valle, who founded and runs the nonprofit Tri-CED Community Recycling center in Union City.

In 2008, Tri-CED recycled about 1,000 tons of glass, an amount that probably would have doubled had wine and liquor bottles been included in the program, Valle said.

Also, expanding the bottle bill would result in more "green" jobs, he said. Tri-CED, which is known for employing at-risk youths, probably would hire three to seven new employees as a result, Valle said.

As part of his effort to change the law, Valle has requested the Union City City Council to pass a resolution at its next meeting calling for an amendment to the bottle bill. Should it pass, Union City would be the first city in the county to adopt such a resolution.

But other councils may not be far behind.

Hayward City Councilman Bill Quirk said he is "much in favor" of adopting a similar resolution after speaking with Valle, and plans to propose the idea to the council's sustainability committee. Also, in March, Valle plans to spread the word at a local governments conference.

When the bottle bill passed in 1986, the wine industry opposed the inclusion of wine and liquor bottles in the program because it would have had to charge customers more for the bottles upfront, said Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste.

"California has a very large and influential wine industry," Murray said. "We've not been successful in communicating to policy makers that adding wine and liquor bottles to the recycling program isn't a punishment. It's frankly an opportunity. The political perception up to this point is that putting a nickel or a dime value on a wine bottle is punishing the wine industry."

But, he added, over the last few years, there's been a shift in attitude among winemakers, some of whom market themselves as sustainable companies that use organic composts and want to increase the amount of recycled materials in their bottles.

Only two states, Maine and Iowa, refund consumers for recycling wine and liquor bottles, and Oregon is considering a similar bill, Murray said.

"California has always been a leader in the implementation of recycling programs," he said. "If other states are starting to move on putting value on wine and liquor bottles, it stands to reason that California legislators will look at the same thing."


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