State Crushing Beverage Recycling Program?

You know things are bad in Sacramento when the programs making California money are on the verge of collapse.

Take the state's state-of-the-art beverage container recycling program, which could be getting crushed like a used soda can.


“For years California
has courted a reputation as an eco-friendly, green-minded leader,” reported the Sacramento Bee earlier this month, “but
the state now finds its most basic program of recycling beverage
bottles and cans mired in debt and litigation.”

supermarket recycling sites have shut down of late as the state's
23-year-old program, managed by the Department of Conservation through
fees charged to beverage buyers, has been dinged by
the recession, rising redemption rates and raids of its coffers by
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature.

A recent San Diego Union-Tribune
editorial reported more than $400 million was plucked out of the
fund in the most recent budget, forcing more than 150 centers to close statewide this year with
more expected closures to come. The governor and
Democratic-controlled Legislature already had sticky fingers by then. The state “borrowed”
$188 million from the recycling fund in 2002
and $98.3 million the next year. Both loans were supposed to be repaid
this year, but the Legislature postponed repayment until 2013, while
transferring millions more out of the fund in 2008 and 2009, the editorial notes.

While the governor and Legislature agree there's a
problem (but discount one another's solutions), recycling centers are
closing at such an alarming rate that the nonprofit advocacy group
Californians Against Waste is warning the overall recycling rate will
likely drop dramatically statewide as shoppers are
forced to drive farther and wait longer to redeem their bottles and

law, supermarkets not served by parking-lot recyclers are supposed to
either pay the state $100 a day–only one store is doing so–or
redeem the containers themselves. Many do not, according to the Bee.

Two of the
largest operators of collection centers, Tomra Pacific and NexCycle, have shutdown
of about 90 centers recently, laying off more than 100 workers. Tomra,
which projects losses of $9 million this year, has joined with two
other firms to sue the state, seeking to “stop the dismantling” of the
As the Union-Tribune editorial points out, beverage recycling was considered cutting-edge when the
Legislature enacted a “bottle bill” in 1986, tacking a 5- or 10-cent
California Refund Value, or CRV, charge onto most aluminum, glass or
plastic beverage containers. “The
program has been widely popular with the public,” states the editorial, “and is credited with
keeping roadways and other areas relatively free of litter, at least in
comparison to states that do not have similar programs.”

Asked by the Weekly to comment on all this, Department
of Conservation officials pointed to the pending lawsuit but were also kind enough to copy and paste a link to the Bee piece in their return email.

program's collapse could reinstate the problem that led to the
legislation in the first place: too many recyclable beverage containers
winding up in–and burdening–California landfills. Meanwhile, because
recyclables provide income for homeless and working poor families, the
collection center closures could not be happening at a worse time.

Speaking of bad timing, the scrap value of aluminum cans has
plummeted in the past year, and while President Barack Obama bounces around the country
boasting about new green jobs, loss of the state recycling program
would eliminate hundreds of existing ones.

“This page has long called
for Sacramento officials to rein in out-of-control spending and adopt
honest, gimmick-free budgets,” concludes the San Diego editorial. “But the
outright lunacy of this particular budgetary legerdemain and
its effect-putting at risk a popular, green, economically significant
program-sadly forces us again to ponder just how broken the system is
and just how oblivious our elected officials are.”

You know what we should really recycle?

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