California container recycling rate hits lowest point since 2008

Dive Brief:

  • California's container recycling rate was 79.8% in 2016, down from 80.9% in 2015, according to a biannual report from the Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle). This marked the first time the number has dipped below 80% since 2008. The state's redemption rate also saw a slight decrease from 84% to 83%.
  • The decrease in redemption and recycling rates was universal across almost every material category. Overall, more than 18.4 billion beverage containers were recycled in 2016, with PET containers comprising the largest share.
  • In a press release, nonprofit advocacy group Californians Against Waste attributed this decline to the closure of more than 560 recycling centers within the past 15 months and called on legislators to provide more funding for these facilities in the state budget. The group also noted the effect this has on people that depend on income from collecting containers throughout the state.

Dive Insight:

The ongoing issues with California's container recycling program have been well-documented and various legislative fixes, such as changing the payment formula for redemption centers, have been proposed to help stabilize it. A recent report from the state legislative analyst's office comparing California's program to other states noted that distributors play a smaller role than usual in collecting containers and the processing payment structure is too easily affected by changing commodity prices. The report identifies these insufficient payments as the main source of closures.

According to the report, more than 300 "convenience zone" recycling centers have closed since the beginning of 2016 as a result of this instability. In addition to the financial hardship this imposes on recycling center operators, it also leads to higher container volumes at grocery stores that may not be equipped for it, and creates an inconvenience for consumers that can lead to lower redemption rates. Compared to nine other states with redeemable deposits, California has had the most facility closures due in part to these factors.

Passing new container redemption laws or programs can be difficult, as Connecticut is currently experiencing, though once implemented they can be hard to turn back. Iowa's state legislature advanced a bill to restructure their own program earlier this year but eventually tabled it in recognition that any change could take multiple years to enact. Meanwhile, Oregon recently doubled its redemption rate to 10 cents — joining Michigan as the only state with this rate — and has seen higher volumes following the shift.

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Filed Under: Collections & Transfer Recycling
Top image credit: Depositphotos