Vanishing recycling centers prompt new bill making beverage industry responsible for bottles, cans

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Tuesday, May 25, 2021
New bill makes beverage industry responsible for recycling
"Recycling deserts" can include rural areas because the population is too small to support centers, while many well-to-do areas of the Bay Area are deserts because of the high costs.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Have you tried lately to return bottles or cans and get your nickels and dimes? In all of San Francisco, there is only one recycling center. In Humboldt County, there are no recycling centers at all. More than half of the beverage container redemption centers have shut down in the past couple of years.

Now, the situation is so dire, areas without sufficient centers are called "recycling deserts." These can include rural areas because the population is too small to support centers, while many well-to-do areas of the Bay Area are deserts because of the high costs here.

Nearly everyone believes it is time for change.

South Bay State Senator, Bob Wieckowski, has offered Senate Bill 38, which blows up the current system and turns over the job of recycling to the beverage industry.

"How many times have we in government heard that private sector could do a better job? SB 38 is an invitation to the private sector to do a better job," he says, "give us 90% recycling rate."

Consumer Watchdog's Jamie Court backs the senate bill and says entrenched interests, including waste haulers who pick up recycling at our front doors, are opposing the bill.

"Because they want us to keep using curbside," he says, "even though it's contaminated, a lot of it goes to landfill, because they're making money and they don't want us to fix the system and they are 'The Opposition.'"

California Waste Haulers Council is an industry group. 7 On Your Side requested an interview. The executive director declined; no one else there set up a time.

7 On Your Side asked Waste Management for an interview, nothing was set up.

7 On Your Side asked Recology, another waste company, for an interview and received an email statement which read in part: "... we are monitoring the proposed legislation and have not taken a position."

Recology said a possible source for 7 On Your Side's report, might be the environmental group, Californians Against Waste, a group which opposes Senator Wieckowski's bill. Executive director, Mark Murray, says the current system would work fine with some tweaks. For instance:

"We want to take the unredeemed money, we want to take the fees paid by the beverage industry and we want to fund a network of community-based recycling centers," Murray says.

A common question is, "Why not just increase the deposit, then people will bring back those containers?" Well it is not easy to change the deposit. Under current law, a two-thirds vote is needed to increase the deposit. That is a near-impossible hurdle in today's political landscape.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

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