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January 5, 2010

Red Bluff Daily News

California Beverage Container Recycling Program: No deposit, no return

While many consumers continue to recycle beverage containers, there is a brewing controversy that is making it tough for recycling centers to continue operations.

The money that is supposed to subsidize the recycling centers is being borrowed to prop up the state's general fund.

The California Beverage Container Recycling Program was created in 1987 to encourage recycling.

Under the program, when consumers buy beverages in recyclable containers they are charged a California Redemption Value deposit, which is 5 cents or 10 cents depending on the size of the container.

Consumers get the CRV refunded when they recycle the containers.

The program was supposed to be self sustaining-because the deposits that are not redeemed would subsidize the recycling centers' handling fees.

In July 2009, the Department of Conservation, which is in charge of the program, cut the subsidy by 85 percent. In November it eliminated the subsidy entirely.

Recycling centers all over the state are operating on dire budgets because the state has failed to give the subsidy, said Tom Smith, co-owner of Big Foot Recycling, headquartered in Anderson and with many collection centers in Red Bluff.

This program was created so that the surplus fund would stimulate more recycling, and all that money is gone now, he said.

About $415 million from the recycling program has been borrowed for the general fund.

In a
lawsuit filed in Alameda County Superior Court on Nov. 9, Big Foot, Tomra Pacific, Inc. and RB Enterprises Recycling are suing the state asking it to pay back the loan now.

The Legislature has deferred payments until June 30, 2013, according to the suit.

Part of the intent of the lawsuit is to make a point to the Legislature that it can't keep taking from the fund and something has to be done to prevent it from doing so in the future, Smith said. Other funds, such as highway and road taxes, cannot be tapped into, yet the state continues to take from the recycling fund, Smith said.

The last time Big Foot received a subsidy was in October 2009, which was a late payment and at the 85 percent reduced rate. The last time it received a full rate subsidy was in June 2009, Smith said.

The company has had to cut staffing and hours of operation. A standard payroll cut of 15 percent was made and four employees have been laid off.

Certain sites, such as the one on Jackson Street in Red Bluff, are now closed Mondays along with the traditional Sunday closure.

The site at South Main Street gets about 50-60 people a day and on Mondays, when the Jackson Street site is closed, there are upwards of 90 people who come by, employee Matt Wooner said.

The biggest upset is that all this is happening while recycling rates, which are set by the state, have increased and more people are recycling.

With the economic downturn, more people have been motivated to recycle. In the past, it has mostly been people who really needed the extra cash who would recycle, but now groups that have not traditionally recycled are doing so, Smith said.

This is all happening in spite of the fact that we're processing more, he said.


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