Consumers search for open recycling centers, California lawmakers look into bottle redemption solutions

SAN MATEO, Calif. (KGO) -- When hundreds of California recycling centers suddenly closed last year, consumers complained they had no easy way to get the deposits back for their bottles and cans. Lawmakers now are calling for a complete overhaul of the bottle deposit law. But proposals themselves are bottled up in the legislative process. It's left consumers wondering how they can recycle at all.

The state's 34-year-old bottle deposit law is now considered out of date. Recyclers no longer earn much for your empties. The state's largest recycling company is gone. Grocers don't want to take back your bottles. And lawmakers want major changes to our CRV. That could be a long way off. For now, consumers are left holding the bottles.


It used to be a 10-minute drive from James Montgomery's house to a recycling center in San Mateo. Now, he says, it's a big hassle to redeem his bottles and cans.

"The farther you have to go, the more frustrating it is," Montgomery says.

He used to take these empties to a RePlanet recycling center. Now it's shut down -- along with all 284 RePlanet kiosks across the state. It leaves just three recycling centers in San Mateo County.

"And the fewer there are, the more frustrating because the line is longer, you spend an hour waiting to turn in our stuff," he says.

J&D recycling in San Mateo was jammed with customers on a recent day, a line of cars stretching down the street.

"Where I got frustrated is if they're not going to take my cans and bottles back, why am I paying CRV?" asks Montgomery.

Many consumers brought the same concern to 7 On Your Side -- and lawmakers are listening.

State Senator Bob Wiekowski proposed a bill to privatize the bottle deposit system, putting beverage distributors in charge, instead of the state.

"The line is so long that my 92-year-old dad is fed up... he says it's a waste of my time," says Wiekowski. "California is becoming the laughingstock of the recycling world because of our ineptitude and our inability to modernize."

Wiekowski envisions a system of reverse vending machines that take bottles and give back money. The bill was rejected by a Senate committee last week, but he's not giving up.

"We're trying to change that and saying you private industry you figure out how this works best in California," says Wiekowski.

"We need to completely redo this program, it's stuck in the mud," says State Assemblyman Phil Ting. He wants to require manufacturers to use recycled bottles instead of creating more of them.

Change could be a long way off. For now, a stopgap measure provides funds for the remaining recycling centers. The state also is funding a mobile recycling project.

That brings us back to James Montgomery. He's resigned to hauling his bottles 10 miles up the freeway to get his money back.

"$15 to $20 bucks; it's insignificant but it's my money... it does at least help keep the environment better."

We counted 49 recycling centers remaining in the nine-county Bay Area. Most are in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. Only a handful are left in San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo. Grocers also are supposed to redeem your bottles and cans unless they received an exemption from the state. Follow the links below to find which grocers must take your empties, and which recycling centers are still open to buy back your bottles and cans.

Find a recycling center near you by visiting this website.

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

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