You drive a Prius, recyclable shopping bags at the ready, and a bucket placed under your rain gutter. Check! Thinking that collecting bottles and cans will save the planet is just stupid.
In 1986 the California legislature passed the “California Beverage Container Recycling and Litter Reduction Act (AB 2020)” or the “Bottle Bill”, a law that placed a redemption value of 1 cent on beverage containers made from glass or aluminum.
Back then, the Act was promoted by environmentalists and the state as being good for the planet because it would “incentivize” consumers to collect bottles and cans and keep them from filling up scarce landfills or littering our streets.
Of course, the beverage distributors passed this new expense onto retailers who then passed it down to the consumer.
What we know today as the California Redemption Value (CRV) is applied to aluminum cans, glass and plastic bottles, and ranges anywhere from 5 to 10 cents per container depending on size.
However, what is probably not known is that the CRV is taxable.
“The charge for California Redemption Value (CRV) is not a deposit, but a fee imposed on the distributor of the beverage,” the State Board of Equalization explains.
For example, when buying a 12 pack of Coke, a 5 cent per can fee is assessed and taxed. The CRV is refundable when the cans are collected and dropped off at a recycling center but the tax is not included.
Therefore Californians are ultimately paying a fee to encourage recycling, a tax on the sale of the item, and then a tax on the CRV.
If this isn’t unconstitutional, then it’s certainly unethical.
Normally this type of scheme would be a profitable one but it’s the brainchild of bureaucrats so it’s doomed to fail.
A 2010 Bureau of State Audits report concluded that the Department of Conservation incorrectly forecasted revenues by nearly $160 million, failed to audit underpayments from beverage distributors before the statute of limitations expired thereby losing $755,000, and mismanage grants totaling more than $2 million.
Furthermore, the fund that is used to collect the CRV fees is of questionable solvency according to Assembly Bill 7 of 2010. Participants in the recycling program were informed that they would receive a little more than half of what they were owed in the form of payments from the state.
Today many urban cities offer curbside recycling programs through local sanitation departments and instead of the consumer having to haul bags full of cans and bottles to a recycling center, they just simply place them in a blue or green trashcan and wheel them to the end of their driveway.
And with every convenience there is a price.
The bimonthly bill received from your local sanitation department includes the cost of picking up each and every blue or green trashcan but not the refund of the CRV. That is unfortunately forfeited and as the bottles and cans are processed through the sanitation’s Material Recovery Facility (MRF) they will eventually be sold on the stock market as a commodity.
Currently, the London Metal Exchange shows aluminum as selling for just under a dollar a pound.
MRF equipment can be quite expensive but the sanitation companies that participate in the recycling program within each city receive “Curbside Supplemental Payments” from the state’s recycling program to help offset costs.
However, when single bottles or cans are dropped off at a local recycling center they may be redeemed for a $1.54 per pound or the CRV value. Thirty two 12 ounce cans equal approximately one pound and this adds up to a $1.60.
So whether its better to head down to your recycling center with a collection of crushed aluminum cans in large plastic trash bags or lugging cardboard boxes full of individual cans–either seems like a waste of time and money.
Considering this hurdle it’s no surprise the CRV program is buried in controversy.
Being penalized with additional taxes, having the state’s money mismanaged, and redeeming less than what’s initially paid, does it seem fair?
History of recycling in the United States
• The conservation of world’s natural resources goes back thousands of years but Early in the 20th century, locally owned and operated stores in the US provided a system that would refill a soda or beer bottle with the purchase of a deposit. With the return of the empty bottle, customers would be refunded the deposit. The local distributor of the beverages would collect the empty bottles where they would be washed and refilled. A bottle could be used more than 20 times, known as “trippage”, a term that defines the frequency of reuse.
• During World War II, Americans collected rubber, steel, paper, aluminum, copper, iron, tin, silk stockings, and cooking fat. All in support of the war effort. In the 1970s, the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency led the way in the US government’s policy switch from retaining resources for the defense of the nation to protecting it for the benefit of future generations.
• Los Angeles, California: In the early 1980s, landfills began to reach their limits and environmental issues with restricted development of new landfills slowed expansion. In 1985, on the Westside a new program starts that brings a recycling program to about 15,000 homes. Then in 1987, the program grows into the Valley eventually covering all districts within two years (approximately 95,000 homes.)
• July 1, 2007, Gov. Schwarzenegger increases CRV rates to 5 cents for each bottle or can less than 24 ounces, and 10 cents for each bottle and can over 24 ounces.