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Last weekend, on Sept. 30, Governor Jerry Brown affixed his veto to SB 452. The proposed legislation offered California Redemption Value (CRV) centers some financial relief and, much more importantly, a two-year reprieve to build a bottle bill California could be proud of. Unfortunately, returning this bill to its author, Sen. Steve Glazer, unsigned creates additional pressure on small businesses and recycling centers already pushed to the limit.
In an economy which has generally been booming, small business owners in the CRV recycling industry have been struggling to eke out a living as commodity prices spiral downward and the flaws in the CalRecycle reimbursement system become more obvious.
This crisis is not just affecting small businesses. Since 2013, Californians have suffered a 40% reduction in available redemption centers, which has caused the recycling rate for beverage containers to decrease from more than 85% to around 70%. Small independent recyclers and their larger corporate counterparts have both suffered, and without the cost stabilization SB 452 offered, it is likely recycling rates will continue to drop. More hardworking family businesses will throw in the towel and close their doors because they simply can’t feed themselves on the razor-thin margins currently achievable under the existing formulas.
This issue doesn't stop with the redemption centers. A lack of clean material affects the entire supply chain of processors, exporters and domestic manufacturers. In addition, redemption center closures most seriously affect those who live on the margins and depend on this money to make their household budget work each month. While this may sound alarmist, a recent online survey showed that a full 12.6% of the 231 people who responded, “counted on the money they get from recycling their bottles and cans to make it through the month” and a further 35.9% indicated that “the money from recycling bottles and cans was an important part of their family budget.”
In past sessions, bills like SB 452 never made it off the Assembly or Senate floors due to a lack of support from different stakeholders. While prior bills may have recognized the need to look critically at the program, never have we had the will and expertise to rework it to incorporate today’s technology, processes, business environment, and market issues with China and the rest of the globe. Our world has changed, and recent challenges have highlighted the difficulties associated with rules that were developed 30 years ago.
The regulations that govern us are outdated. SB 452 was developed by the combined teamwork of the industry stakeholders who understand and see the urgency of modernizing our “playbook.” The fact that SB 452 passed one vote short of unanimous in both the Assembly and the Senate is telling. The California Grocers Association, California Retailers Association, the environmentalists, the waste haulers and curbside collectors, and the small, independent recycling center operators were all involved in the drafting of this bill. This partnership shows the urgency we all felt to triage this very desperate situation.
In his veto letter, Governor Brown indicated SB 452 was not the creative solution California deserves. He felt it satisfied neither the need for fiscal sustainability and better collection methods, nor provide incentives for innovative new methods of recycling. While I completely agree that we need to address these requirements, this adds unnecessary pressure to an industry already in crisis.
In addition, the veto removed the requirement the bill called for to have the regulating body work with the industry and set a date to develop a comprehensively reformed Beverage Container Recycling Program. Without a mandate, we need to count on CalRecycle voluntarily working with stakeholders and providing relief to our industry. We fervently hope that they will. Our survival depends on it.
California has invested much time and effort in building a recycling infrastructure that is strong and supported by thousands of hard-working citizens. Our population wants and has been conditioned to recycle, both to support the environment and their budget. Now, we need a period of stability in order to develop a new program that will last for the next 30 years.