California threatens recycling redemptions

| January 30, 2014

Many of us toss an item in the recycling bin and never give it another thought. For others, that’s akin to throwing away money. Literally.

Recycling and collecting redemptions for beverage containers provides supplemental income for many. For some, it serves as their entire income — one nickel or dime at a time.

However, a new regulation in California has dealt a substantial blow to those who rely on income from recycling.


Many people have managed to earn a living from collecting bottles on the street. From jellymc.

Here’s the back story: in California (as in many other states), consumers pay a five- or ten-cent premium on beverages such as beer, soda, or bottled water. That premium is intended to pay for the vessel.

If you were to bring that bottle to one of California’s 2,200 recycling centers, you could claim that deposit and pocket the cash.

Californians don’t pay a deposit on some containers, such as wine, liquor, and many milk containers, but of course these containers still get recycled. Until recently, it was possible to mix these non-redeemable items in with redeemable items and collect a fee for all of it. (In cases where more than 50 items are being recycled at one time, redemption fees are paid out based on weight.)

After recycling rates skyrocketed during the recession as more people took the time to claim redemptions, California was forced to revisit their policies and tighten the belt on their $1.1 billion recycling fund. The result: a commingling ban. Now, those containers without deposit fees can no longer be thrown in with redeemable containers. That means they’re worth nothing more than their scrap value.

That policy might not sound like a big deal, but it is having a profound impact on those who depend on recycling income. Gale Holland of the Los Angeles Times recently spoke to a few people affected by the change. One interviewee, Francisco Morataya, takes “a vanload of empty bottles and cans” to a recycling center approximately once per week. Under the new policy, his average take-home pay has plummeted from $200 to “$50 or $60.”

Enrique Lopez Ascension was laid off from his job and is now homeless. He used to earn $15 per day recycling containers, but he makes less than half of that now.

So why are certain bottles excluded from the redemption policy in the first place? Many advocates have tried to lobby for inclusion, but the industry pushes back. A spokesperson for the California wine industry objects on the basis that wine bottles are “not part of the state’s litter problem,” but one might assume that the associated price hike could be a factor as well.

While professional recyclers are hurting under the new policy, there is still money to be made in mass independent recycling. Check your beverage container labels. In California, you can get a nickel for “most glass bottles, plastic bottles, and aluminum cans less than 24 ounces” and a dime for containers “equal to 24 ounces and larger.”

Category: Recycling programs

About the Author ()

Ellen Hunter Gans has been writing for RecycleReminders since the blog’s inception. She is passionate about words, new media and, of course, recycling.

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