A report from a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization called Consumer Watchdog alleges more than 50 percent ($732 million) of the $1.5 billion in deposits consumers in California pay under its beverage container recycling system is not collected.
The group’s report says several factors lead to deposit fees not being returned, including a lack of access to recycling centers, grocery stores that refuse to take empties and state payments and policies that benefit trash haulers, beverage distributors and grocery stores more than the public.
Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, says, “California’s bottle deposit law is broken, and both consumers and the environment are paying a big price. Gov. [Gavin] Newsom needs to make a priority of putting the pieces of California’s broken bottle deposit law back together to stop this half-billion-dollar-per-year consumer ripoff and to combat climate change, which is one of his top priorities.”
The report, titled “Half a Nickel,” recommends Newsom establish a 90 percent redemption target require mandatory returns at all big grocery stores and align payments and incentives to the new redemption goal. It also urges the state to consider raising the deposit amount, which has helped achieve a 90 percent redemption rate in Michigan and Oregon, according to Consumer Watchdog.
“Everyone’s getting rich off consumers’ deposits — curbside trash haulers, retailers and beverage distributors that scam the system — but we are losing out on big money each year,” says Liza Tucker of Consumer Watchdog. “Many of the problems documented trace back to [former Governor Jerry] Brown-era policies that the new governor can change.”
The report points to recycling center closings that it says have left consumers with so few places to redeem their empty bottles and cans that the 10 worst-served counties in the state average only one redemption center for every 60,000 people.
“Grocers and box stores have put up ‘Do Not Disturb’ signs,” says Tucker. “Currently, retail chains, including some of the biggest – Walmart/Sam’s Club, Albertson’s/Safeway and Vons/Pavilions – are failing to serve 64 percent of convenience zones.”
She continues, “The beverage industry routinely scams the bottle recycling program by undercounting, miscoding and failing to report sales. In 2016, CalRecycle [California's Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery] found that Walmart had failed to include the sales of 89 deposit-eligible products in its report deposit totals. That meant that $6.8 million worth of deposits were underreported.”