What You Need to Know about Recycling in California


By Michelle S. Lim, D.C.

As I Yelp through my smartphone to find a local recycling center, I notice the variation in star ratings, ranging from 1-5.  Naturally, I browse through each business, curious to see what everyone is ranting and raving about, and mostly, what makes a Recycling Center worthy of such an extreme review.  After all, aren’t all recycling centers the same?  Surely, no one goes to a recycling center expecting stellar customer service.

After thoroughly reading different reviews and “tips”, there were indeed, those who complained about the lack in customer service (which every Yelper is self entitled to and is never afraid to use).  But the two common denominators amongst those who expressed dissatisfaction with the Recycling Center in question, is :

A) the amount of money they receive in relation to the quantity of goods they deliver.

B) that not all bottles and cans are accepted.

I understand that it’s each company’s individual responsibility to explain this to their patrons, so these people don’t walk away claiming shenanigans on Yelp.  As one reviewer wrote: “This place is a rip off!  Don’t go here.  This place is a scam!”

But after much recycling experience, I empathize with the recycling centers and felt a need to slightly defend them.  This prompted me to do a bit of research on the recycling industry.

BOTTLE BILL

To date, there are 11 states that have a “Bottle Bill” and California is one of them.

Bottle Bill, AKA: Container Deposit Law:  a state law that requires deposits to be paid on beverages sold in recyclable bottles and cans.  The deposit-refund system was created by the beverage industry as a means of guaranteeing the return of their glass bottles to be washed, refilled and resold.

CALIFORNIA REFUND VALUE “CRV”

So anytime you buy a bottle with a “CRV” label, or a California Refund Value, you pay a $0.05 deposit for any bottle under 24 oz. or $0.10 per bottle 24 oz. or greater, which is charged separately from the price of the product being sold at the store.  If you’d like your deposit back, you are encouraged to recycle in order to get cash back on eligible products.

Things to look for on plastic bottles, glass bottles and aluminum cans:  CRV, CA CRV, California Redemption Value, California Cash Refund. 

WHY NOT ALL BEVERAGE CONTAINERS ARE ELIGIBLE FOR CASH

All glass and plastic containers are recyclable, but not all plastic and glass containers are part of the CRV program.  The reason being is that plastics are easier to recycle than others.

When recycling, a container’s recyclability is based upon a couple of factors 1) the resin it’s made from 2) the shape of the container and at the macro-level, a container’s recyclability is determined by the market demand for that specific type of reclaimed product (taking into consideration both resin type and shape).

Since glass weighs more and is inflexible, it costs more to ship, resulting in a lower resale value. If your community can’t make a profit collecting glass, that may be why it’s not collected.

Most beverages other than milk, wine, and distilled spirits are subject to California Refund Value (CRV).  If the beverage was purchased out of state, then it is not eligible for cash since you did not pay an extra deposit at check-out.

WHY ONLY BEVERAGE CONTAINERS ARE ELIGIBLE FOR CASH 

It’s important to think of recycling as a business.  The cost of recycling is driven by the demand for recycled goods.  Unless we start asking for the use of more recycled materials and purchasing items with recycled material, then only certain materials will remain in higher demand, such as plastic bottles.

The reason why beverage containers are the only items eligible for cash, regardless of it’s recyclability, is the fact that beverage containers comprise a large portion of litter.  Americans waste about 425 beverage containers per capita, per year. 

In non-deposit states, beverage containers account for 40-60% of roadside litter, posing threat to life stock, wildlife and humans, who may come in contact with them.

RECYCLING FOR CASH

Each container under 24 oz. is worth $0.05 and anything over 24 oz. is $0.10 per eligible container.

California law allows the customer to be paid based on container count rather than per pound, but certified recyclers are only required to do so up to 50 containers of each type (aluminum, plastic, bi-metal, and glass) upon the request of the customer. Beyond 50 containers of each type it is up to the individual recycle center operator whether or not to pay the customer by pound or by count.


So before you complain about the amount of cash you receive for recycling, be mindful of the different factors that play a role in the recycling game.  It’s like any other business that relies on the basis of demand.  If we consumed more products with recycled materials, we would get paid more to recycle.  It usually has nothing to do with the individual center’s policies, although, if you do have a complaint about a business center not complying with issues, such as your not honoring your request to get paid by the bottle rather than by weight, you can contact the California Department of Resources, Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) at http://calrecycle.ca.gov or use the recycle hotline,

1-800-RECYCLE.

For more information and tips on how to recycle, check out Eartheasy: Solutions for Sustainable Living.

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