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January 18th, 2010

OC Watchdog

Secrets to getting your bottle-and-can deposits back

What’s wrong with this system?

That’s what this Watchdog wonders every time he schleps his beverage containers to the local recycling center to redeem the 5 and 10 cent California Redemption Value (CRV) deposits.

Your Watchdog drinks a fair amount of bottled water, not to mention Diet Coke.

He hangs on to the empty containers and, every so often, takes a Hefty bag full of them to be recycled, partly because it’s the right thing to do and partly because he likes to get his CRV deposits back.

These recycling trips are always an ordeal, which your Watchdog will use almost any excuse to postpone.

Typically, he takes his empties to a RePlanet location behind his neighborhood Ralphs on Warner Ave. in Huntington Beach.

On a Saturday, he invariably finds a long line of others, behind whom he must wait to use the reverse vending machines. And, invariably, the gruff RePlanet attendant announces that he will take no glass today, or makes some other edict that forces your Watchdog to cart some portion of his containers back home, feeling frustrated and vaguely oppressed.

For his trouble, the Watchdog receives not cash but a voucher — redeemable only at Ralphs, and only for a limited time –  in an amount reflecting the number of containers he is able to redeem.

Then one day, while he was waiting in line, a friendly, bushy-bearded fellow who seemed to know what he was talking about told The Watchdog that he could take his containers to the Fresh & Easy store on Beach Boulevard in H.B., where he could get cash for them.

The Watchdog decided to check this out and was pleasantly surprised to find it was true.

At this Fresh & Easy, there is generally no line. The Watchdog simply notifies a clerk that he has containers to recycle and someone comes outside to count and take them away. He is then given cash for the redemption value.

This worked fine until one day, The Watchdog arrived at Fresh & Easy to find someone else waiting to redeem containers.

A clerk came out to help this other person and, sounding harried, informed The Watchdog that Fresh & Easy was “getting backed up.” She suggested he take his containers to BevMo next door, which, she said, is bound by law to accept them.

And so your Watchdog entered BevMo with his Hefty sack full of containers and asked if they would accept them. “Yes, but they have to be cleaned out,” he was told.

They were cleaned out, your Watchdog affirmed, and so a manager was beckoned to count them and give him cash (nearly $8) on the spot.

recyclingcenter.p0720.per5The Watchdog was quite pleased by this but left wondering: what exactly is the law regarding whether stores must take containers back? Because his neighborhood Ralphs and the nearby Albertsons both insist that they won’t take them. They refer him to RePlanet.

So The Watchdog did a little research with help from Mark Oldfield of the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery.

Here’s how it works:

The department establishes “convenience zones” in a one-half mile radius around each store that sells beverages.

If there is a recycling center in a convenience zone, stores in that zone do not have to take returns. Since many zones overlap, multiple zones are served by a single recycling center in some cases.

However, in “unserved zones” with no recycling center, stores that sell beverages must accept container returns or pay a $100 per day fine.

It turns out that your Watchdog stumbled into an “unserved zone” when he drove across Beach Boulevard.

Unserved zone? Maybe that’s what they call it. But it feels a lot more convenient to your Watchdog.

How can you find an unserved zone? Stores in unserved zones are supposed to have a sign in the front door to let you know they’ll redeem your cans and bottles.

You can review a master list on the department’s Web site. Go to www.calrecycle.ca.gov/BevContainer/Recyclers/

Select: Convenience Zone (CZ) & Recycling Center (RC) Status Report.

This gets you an Excel spreadsheet that lists all supermarkets. Search by zip code or city name. “UZ” stands for unserved zone.

I counted 79 stores in unserved zones all over Orange County – and that’s just supermarkets. Nearby non-supermarket retailers in these zones may also be required to take returns.

Happy recycling!


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