CA Lawmaker Proposes Bill To Enforce CRV Refund Laws

A year after KPIX first exposed problems with California's CRV Refund recycling program the situation has gotten worse. Maria Medina tells us about a bill that aims to fix it.

Video Transcript

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KEN BASTIDA: Well, it has been a year since we reported on systemic troubles with California's bottle and can recycling program.

- During the pandemic, things have only gotten worse. Tonight in our special series, "Road To Recovery" KPIX-5's Marie Medina joins us live with the new ideas to fix it. Maria.

MARIA MEDINA: And guys, we pay a deposit for almost every can and bottle that we buy. And we're supposed to get our money back. But according to the state's recycling regulator, only 60% of Californians do. And we found a lot of reasons why.

- Bottles and cans.

- We don't do it.

MARIA MEDINA: That was the answer we got when we took bottles and cans to this Safeway in San Francisco in January of 2020 to get back our nickels and dimes.

- Recycling?

- Oh, we don't do recycling.

MARIA MEDINA: Our undercover investigation revealed many retailers unwilling to redeem even though under California law, they are required to.

- Some bottles and cans.

- We are not take it now. We don't have a place.

MARIA MEDINA: During the pandemic, they got a break. But late last year, when the state lifted the moratorium--

- Bottles and cans.

MARIA MEDINA: We still had problems.

- We are not doing that anymore.

MARIA MEDINA: The only other option for Bay Area residents is to wait in long lines at one of the few remaining recycling centers.

- Is it worth it to sometimes drive the 11 miles being in traffic?

- Not, really. But I do it because sometimes you really need that little bit of money for gas and for whatever coming up.

STATE SEN. BOB WIECKOWSKI: It's broken. It needs to be fixed.

MARIA MEDINA: Senator Bob Witkowski has been trying to fix the bottle bill ever since he came to Sacramento 11 years ago.

STATE SEN. BOB WIECKOWSKI: We were visionairies in 1985. We developed this bill. We've amended it so many times that it's lost its core. So I can't put another Band-Aid on this.

MARIA MEDINA: This year, he's introduced SB38, which essentially takes the program away from the state and puts it in the hands of the industry.

STATE SEN. BOB WIECKOWSKI: The bottom line is that Californians don't have a convenient, easy way to recycle their products. They don't get their nickel or dime back when they try to recycle. This takes the current system, gets rid of it, and puts the responsibility on the manufacturers, the producers of the bottles.

MARIA MEDINA: And speaking of green, Wieckowski's bill proposes a system similar to organs that uses buyback machines in stores.

STATE SEN. BOB WIECKOWSKI: These vending machines that you can put your cans and bottles in or the bags you can drop off. So it's seamless.

MARIA MEDINA: Data shows Oregon has the third best redemption rate out of 10 states at 86%. California is third to last at 58.9%. Down a full 10% since the beginning of 2020. But casting SB38 is not going to be easy. Wieckowski two prior bills failed opposed by, among others, local recyclers. Like Tri-CED community recycling in Union City, the largest nonprofit recycling operation in northern California.

RICHARD VALLE: I would not be in favor of putting all of that infrastructure money in the hands of the private sector who creates these commodities.

MARIA MEDINA: Instead, Tri-CED CEO, Richard Valle who is also an Alameda County supervisor has other ideas.

RICHARD VALLE: I would give another nickel for every container. I would start banning plastic one time used, non-refillable bottles.

MARIA MEDINA: He wants Cal Recycle to bail out struggling recyclers with more subsidies. Proposed in another bill AB1454. The money would come from a $400 million slush fund of unredeemed nickels and dimes sitting in Sacramento.

RICHARD VALLE: The state is holding money that belongs to consumers that's not being given back to them. That's called a tax.

MARIA MEDINA: This center is surviving. But more than 1,000 others across the state shut down in just the past eight years. Processors are feeling the pinch as well.

JEFF DONLEVY: But we do need a major overhaul.

MARIA MEDINA: Jeff Donlevy is the general manager of Ming's Resources. He says supply of recyclable resources is way down.

JEFF DONLEVY: Our business is to get more clean recyclable material. And that material, the plastic bottles, the water and soda bottles, those create jobs in California.

MARIA MEDINA: One way or another, a fix will be welcome news for consumers who drive miles to get back their money.

- I came all the way from Newark.

MARIA MEDINA: And continue to get turned away at their local retailer.

- I'm here to bring back some bottles and cans.

- We don't have recycling here.

MARIA MEDINA: And Cal Recycle turned down our request for an interview. But in a statement, told us they look forward to implementing legislative upgrades. We've posted their entire statement as well as a statement from the Grocers Association on KPIX.com. Ken.

KEN BASTIDA: Yeah, you pay that money up front. So what about putting the bottles and cans in the blue bin? You're just giving it to somebody else, right?

MARIA MEDINA: Which a lot of us do. But recycling advocates say curbside program should actually be the last resort. Because as much as 40% of what goes into those blue bins actually ends up in the landfill instead.

KEN BASTIDA: It doesn't get recycled. All right. Maria, thank you.

- It's worth it.