Recycling Rates Continue Sharp Decline on 30th Anniversary of California’s Bottle Bill As Legislature Fails to Act

As California’s Bottle Bill celebrates its 30th anniversary this month, recycling rates are tumbling as recycling centers close due to inaction in the state legislature to fix the program.

“This anniversary comes at an especially critical time for the program,” says former Assemblymember Burt Margolin (D-Los Angeles), the author of the legislation, Assembly Bill 2020. “The legislation set a goal of 80 percent beverage container recycling, which we exceeded in 2008, reaching as high as 85 percent in (2013). But as of mid-2017, recycling rates have slid backwards and now are at 77 percent. There’s an easy fix the Legislature can make in the next few weeks to reverse that trend.”

More than 560 recycling centers have closed during the past two years – approximately 20 percent of the statewide total. These closures have been driven by a two-year drop in recycler reimbursement levels.

As a result, more than 2.5 million fewer containers per day are being recycled this year than in the last reporting period. As a consequence, more than 5,000 beverage sellers (from large grocery stores to small corner shops) are staring at a new obligation to redeem containers in their stores or pay $100 per day fines.

Legislation advanced by Assembly Budget Committee Chairman Phil Ting and supported by the Brown Administration is seeking to address these issues. However, it was set aside during recent budget negotiations and will die unless taken up by the Legislature before it adjourns in mid-September.

Unlike traditional “bottle bills” in other states, AB 2020 did not require consumers to ‘redeem’ containers for recycling in stores. It generated the creation of buyback recycling centers, including a network of supermarket parking lot-based ‘convenience zone’ recycling centers.

The result is the world’s second largest bottle recycling program, second only to Germany. Californians recycle more than 50 million beverage containers each day – one out of every five bottles recycled in the United States.

To date, more than 362 billion containers have been recycled, preventing the emissions of more than 41 million tons of carbon dioxide – the equivalent to saving the use of nearly 96 million barrels of oil.

The Bottle Bill has been an economic success story too. With more than 10,000 Californians directly employed in container recycling operations, it generated $305 million in recycler revenue in 2016 alone (half of that revenue from curbside operations). Annual revenue of $1.6 billion goes to the State of California, with $20 million annually supporting recycled glass and plastic market development/manufacturing. Another $18 million goes to Community Conservation Corps, local government and non-profits.

“We are hopeful that this legislature, which has done extraordinary work on climate change and other global environmental issues, will make the necessary tweaks to continue three decades of success of the Bottle Bill,” notes Mark Murray, Executive Director of Californians Against Waste. “It would be tragic to see 30 years of gains be reversed and many communities without a place to recycle their bottles and cans because the Legislature didn’t act.”