California’s Bottle Bill Fails to Support Recycling Operators

Advocating for the fight against climate change is noble and necessary, but big picture issues change with individual actions. Rather than taking on the global issue of climate change, LA Times writer Jerry Skelton believes Governor Brown ought to focus on local issues and overhaul California’s beverage container recycling program.

The right fix for the 1986 Bottle Bill that gave rise to the program would help clean up the environment and aid businesses in balancing their budgets.

How does California’s beverage container recycling program work?

Basically, the state charges beverage distributers and manufacturers a deposit fee that is passed down the supply chain as an added cost to retailers and then to consumers. Consumers can return qualifying bottles to approved public or private operators in exchange for the appropriate California Refund Value (CRV). Operators are reimbursed by the state.

The current CRV is $0.05 for bottles less then 24 ounces and $0.10 for bottles 24 ounces or more. Because some beverage containers end up in landfills instead, the state generates a fund surplus, which is used to reimburse operators, provide grants, pay program administrators, and promote recycling education.

The program’s proponents estimate over one million tons of plastic, glass, and aluminum have been diverted from landfills and the environment and say Californians recycle over 50 million containers per day. The bill, in part, helped California reach a peak recycling rate of 85 percent.

That’s a big deal, BUT does the bill truly support the businesses who make recycling possible? Consumers may be willing, but when there is no infrastructure, recycling goals are unachievable.

Despite positive environmental outcomes, businesses struggle to compete with virgin materials.

In just over a year, 560 recycling centers have closed- that’s 25 percent of all California operators! As a result, more than 1,000 workers have lost their jobs and about two million containers, including over one million plastic bottles, have been prevented from reaching the recyclable commodities market.

Why are these centers struggling? The problem is rigid legislation making reimbursements difficult and that the state’s program fund surpluses simply cannot cover recycling program operators’ budget deficits caused by drops in plastic and glass scrap values- even though processing fees are collected from beverage manufacturers when the value of the recyclable dips below the cost of recycling.

Because of low commodity prices, recycling centers often have a difficult time remaining profitable. Recycled commodities also face competition from virgin materials. Sellers of virgin ore have an easier time in providing a reliable supply, both in quantity and quality.

So, how does California plan to help recycling program operators?


Opinions vary and government plans remain vague. The Governor still hasn’t revealed detailed legislation, but states he’d like to include wine and liquor bottles to qualify for reimbursement. State Senator Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) wants to push a bill that would scrap the program and start fresh and would also include wine and liquor bottles. Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste, says the funds from the program’s surplus should just be used to fix the current problem.

Governments can be slow to act. So, what can businesses do to protect their profits? Recycling programs require meticulous strategies and smart marketing tactics. Berg Mill Supply has decades of experience in developing and implementing profitable recyclable programs based on individual company needs. We also have years of experience matching materials, both common and difficult-to-place, to markets worldwide.

Unlike current recycling legislation, Berg Mill caters to businesses. If you’re a beverage distributor or manufacturer, grocer, certified CRV operator, or non-profit accepting recyclable donations and would like to strengthen your current recycling program or create one, contact us!