aluminum beverage cans
Many aluminum beverage cans, along with plastic and glass beverage bottles, are collected via a statewide system in California.
Photo by Brian Taylor.

Can technology help fix California’s beverage container recycling woes?

Software provider True Cloud ERP says a statewide system can address out-of-state fraud concerns.

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June 2, 2020

Beverage container recycling has faced challenges nationwide with the onset of COVID-19 as recycling companies and municipalities struggle with how to handle such containers safely.

Even before the onset of the virus, however, container recycling rates in California—once the envy of the nation—were moving lower because of a different set of problems. The long-standing formula that had funded the Golden State’s California Refund Value (CRV) system was losing its attractiveness to private sector recyclers in the face of higher labor costs and lower secondary commodity values.

Another problem besieging the CRV system—and making a profitable formula difficult to create—has been fraudulent activity based on bringing out-of-state containers across the border for refunds. Providing the return fee on beverage containers for which no deposit fee has been paid throws any such formula out of whack.

The woes of the California system and a call for increased funding to fix it have been documented by advocacy groups who want to see the state’s beverage container recycling rate again become the standard-bearer for the nation.

However, some recyclers, and at least one industry vendor, say additional funding is a short-term solution unless a means is found to halt the out of state fraud—without imposing huge cost burdens on CRV system recyclers.

David Amezcua, general manager at Green-Go Recycling in Escondido, California, says he has become increasingly discouraged by the CRV system as it currently stands.

“Doing things by the book, like inspecting and accounting for every product, requires a lot of labor in order to keep a high level of customer service and compliance at the same time,” says Amezcua.

An automated process would be helpful, says Amezcua, and Green-Go’s existing software provider, San Marcos, California-based True Cloud ERP and its CEO Stacy Duty, say technology already exists to put such a system in place. 

“Our company is developing a cloud ERP [enterprise resource planning] solution that would allow the entire state to use one cloud solution that would allow every California resident that recycles to track their recycling and participate in rewards programs adding to the fun of recycling,” says Duty.

He continues, “This new solution is powered by Oracle to manage the big data associated with operating a statewide bottle beverage program. Using this solution would allow for bag dropoff like Oregon has, so families would no longer need to stand in long lines. It allows for electronic payments and would allow the state to begin tracking where the containers are coming from while helping the recycling centers remain in full compliance.”

True Cloud’s system would build upon and tie together established technology to help address out-of-state fraud issues, says Duty. “If California allowed for a bag drop system, then cans can be counted manually or by using high-tech sorting machines that are connected to the scale solution. The concept is to verify that the beverage containers were originally sold in California, and push the payment electronically.”

Beverage manufacturers would need to register the containers sold to California grocers and the high-speed sorting machines provided by the state could sort mixed loads using optical sorters and other telematic devices, says Duty. “The sorting machine would create a tag for each customer and electronically send the payment,” he comments.

“The key to success is to allow the real container buyer to drop off their unsorted mixed bags (no sorting) within a few minutes and then get paid later via the debit card they scanned or received when dropping off the containers,” he continues. “The state program would really need to start focusing its solutions on the actual customer who paid the redemption amount and stop catering to street collectors who want quick cash. After all, the beverage consumer who paid the nickel deserves a fast and clean recycling center that they can trust to get their money back,” states Duty.

At existing CRV collection centers, “We would train each recycling center owner how to use the software to run their entire business, helping them organize and become more profitable while keeping it fun,” says the technology vendor. “This would allow the processors to bid on materials to drive up the scrap values, which is how the recycling center makes money.”

Amezcua says he likes what he has heard from Duty and True Cloud ERP. “Using technology to speed up the process and having a data control center that communicates with the state so they can be more flexible and have a more rapid reactions to the market situation, including costs of processing and labor, will [make the CRV program] more efficient, attractive and convenient,” he comments.

Duty says he is eager for technological upgrades to be given a chance in California. “We have developed a simple to use solution with portals for the state, the manufacturers, the stores, the recycling centers and the residents who recycle that the state can afford—and it would be free to the stores, recycling centers and the residents.”

Concludes Duty, “This needs to be done as soon as possible, before the state [government] starts bringing on new centers to rebuild the number of redemption centers.”