California's Container Deposit Return System

For comprehensive analyses of California’s system, scroll down for reports, letters and other documents

Overview

California’s beverage container deposit return system - (DRS, aka bottle bills) - has suffered from extensive shortcomings over the last decade-plus – namely the closure of more than 1,300 (50%) of the state’s redemption centers from 2013 to 2022 and a lack of transparency about the amount of state funding available to upgrade the program.

However, since 2022 we have seen improvements to California’s DRS via legislation to expand the types of containers on deposit, create more convenient bottle and can return options, and protect redemption centers’ financial viability. These enhancements should increase container redemption rates along with the associated environmental and economic benefits.  

CRI played an important role in the inclusion of several valuable provisions in California legislation passed in 2022 and 2023:

•    Addition of deposits on wine and spirits (effective Jan. 1, 2024) projected to result in more than half a billion additional containers recycled annually. (SB 1013)
•    Closure of a program loophole by adding coverage to 100% fruit and vegetable juices, placing deposits on an estimated 188 million new containers. (SB 353)
•    Start-up funding ($220 million over three years) for new recycling centers, reverse vending machines (RVMs), mobile recycling, bag drops and high-volume counting equipment. (AB 179 budget bill)
•    Creation of a $25 million funding program for refillables. (AB 179 budget bill)
•    An adjustment to the processing payment calculation for redemption centers to provide fairer compensation, enabling them to remain economically viable and prevent further closures. (SB 353
•    Establishment of a mechanism to address bottle bill fraud and contamination of materials. (SB 38)
•    Correction of a provision in California’s recycled content law that could have unintentionally exempted most beverage manufacturers from needing to comply, thus negating the law’s intent. (SB 38)

New State Dealer Cooperative Regulations

SB 1013, signed into law in 2022, also dramatically changes the state’s convenience zone system, introducing a “dealer cooperative” concept beginning in 2025 with a goal of providing more easily accessible bottle and can return options for consumers and eliminating “redemption deserts” that have virtually no container return sites. A convenience zone is an area within a certain radius of retailers where a redemption center must be located. The dealer cooperative is defined as a tax-exempt stewardship organization formed to provide redemption opportunities and consisting of dealers with an approved redemption plan.

CRI is helping to shape effective dealer cooperative regulations by providing input on the reporting, registration, stewardship plan and operating requirements.

Misreporting of DRS Fund Balance

Diligent work by CRI has helped bring to light that the California Beverage Container Recycling Program -BCRP- fund balance has been misreported in various reports for several years, with a differential of nearly $300 million for FY 2022-23 when comparing the number in the governor’s budget -$538 million- to the amount in reports to other state agencies -$830 million-. In addition, CalRecycle -which manages the state’s DRS program- has not prepared the statutorily required semi-annual financial statements to the state legislature since the report covering the January to June 2021 timeframe.

The consequences of legislators receiving and acting upon incorrect or incomplete information cannot be overstated. When elected officials are presented with inaccurate budget figures, it severely hampers their ability to make informed decisions that align with the best interests of the state and its constituents. This can lead to inappropriate allocations of resources and hinder the effectiveness of public policy initiatives.

The bottom line: Timely, transparent and accurate financial reports from CalRecycle are crucial for public trust in budget-making and fund management.

The documents on this page contain additional information on California’s DRS, including CRI’s legislative analyses and recommendations. CRI will continue to advocate for improvements to the program – including increasing the beverage container deposit amount from 5 to 10 cents – and inform elected officials and other stakeholders about any lack of progress in approved initiatives. Our work is crucial to ensuring that the nation’s most populous state operates an efficient, effective system key to a more circular economy. 

For redemption rates and other features of California’s DRS, see CRI’s All States Table.

Important note: For consumers whose nearest redemption center has closed, see the document titled “Bottle and Can Recycling in California: How to Get Your Deposits Back” (May 2024) for options on how to redeem your empty beverage containers for cash.

 

Additional Documents:

 

2024

CRI Supports CA AB 2511 (May 14, 2024)

Bottle and Can Recycling in California: How to Get Your Deposits Back (May 2024)

CRI Opposes CA SB 1113, Unless Amended (March 13, 2024)

 

2023

CalRecycle's Processing Payment Emergency Regulations (November 13th, 2023)

Update on the Financial Status of California’s Beverage Container Recycling Program: Overall $923 million Balance in Funds (November 2, 2023)

CRI Statement on California SB 353 Becoming Law (October 17th, 2023)

CRI provides comment on CalRecycle SB1013 Dealer Cooperative Draft (September 14th, 2023)

CRI has serious concerns about the Governor’s 2023-2024 budget for the Beverage Container Recycling Fund (June 13th, 2023)

Apparent Errors and Omissions in Governor's Budget for fund 0269, the Glass Processing Fee Account (June 13th, 2023)

Apparent Errors and Omissions in Governor's Budget for fund 0133, the California Beverage Container Recycling Fund (June 13th, 2023)

CRI supports SB 353 - California  (June 5th, 2023)

CalRecycle's Tentative Implementation Calendar for Circular Economy Programs (May 5th, 2023)

California Budget Change Proposal: Beverage Container Recycling Implementation (SB 1013) (January 10, 2023)

 

2022

CRI Letter to California Office of Administrative Law on CalRecycle Processing Payment Emergency Regulations (October 26th, 2022)

CA SB 1013 Summary (September 5th, 2022)

CA AB 179 Budget Act of 2022 Deposit Program Funding Breakdown (September 5th, 2022)

CRI neither opposes or supports SB 1013 (August 26, 2022)

Amendments to Senate Bill No. 1013 (August 23, 2022)

The California Beverage Container Recycling and Litter Reduction Act - Flow of Payments under the Beverage Container Recycling Program (August 2022)

Letter from CRI to Assembly Committee on Appropriations to Support for SB 1013 (July 25, 2022) UPDATED

Pilot Error: How CalRecycle's New CRV Refund Pilots are Crashing and Burning (Consumer Watchdog, June 2022)

Letter from CRI to California Assembly Committee on Natural Resources: Support for SB 38 (June 21, 2022)

Container Recycling Institute Comments on CalRecycle’s Budget Change Proposal (BCP) for the Beverage Container Recycling Program (BCRP) (May 2nd, 2022)

Letter to California Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin: CRI Supports California AB 2779 (to place a CRV on wine and distilled spirits sold in aluminum cans) (April 25th, 2022)

Proposed Bonus Credits Would Double Recycling Refunds to Get Surplus Bottle and Can Deposits Back to Californians (CalRecycle, April 1st, 2022)

Flaw in California's AB 793's De Minimis Provision Threatens Operability of Entire Recycled Content Law (CRI, March 31st, 2022)

CalRecycle Budget Change Proposal (March 30th, 2022)

California's Bottle Bill: The Path to Redemption (The Story of Stuff Project, March 3rd, 2022)

'The System Is So Broken': State Senator Grills California Officials Over Bottle Deposit Program (San Francisco Chronicle, March 3rd, 2022)

Letter from CalRecycle to California Senate Budget Subcommittee on CalRecycle's Oversight of the Beverage Container Recycling Fund (March 2nd, 2022)

More Bottle and Can Redemptions Coming to California Communities Without Recycling Centers in New CVS Agreement with CalRecycle (CalRecycle, March 1st, 2022)

Letter from California Senate Budget Subcommittee to CalRecycle on CalRecycle's Oversight of the Beverage Container Recycling Fund (February 22nd, 2022)

California Bottle Deposit Program Sitting on at Least $100 Million More than It Told Lawmakers (San Francisco Chronicle, January 30th, 2022)


2021

CRI Supports CalRecycle's Proposal to Extend the Processing Payment Emergency Regulations (December 16th, 2021)

Update on the Status of California's Beverage Container Recycling Program: Overall $648 Million Balance in Funds Amidst Staggering Losses of Redemption Opportunities for Consumers (December 15th, 2021)

Update on the Status of California’s Beverage Container Recycling Program: Overall $534 Million Balance in Funds Amidst Staggering Losses of Redemption Opportunities for Consumers  (July 28th, 2021)

CRI Opposes AB 1454, Changes to The California Beverage Container Recycling and Litter Reduction Act (June 25th, 2021)

CRI Supports California's AB 962 (June 21st, 2021)

Background on California’s Convenience Zone Structure and Current Status  (May 5th, 2021)

 

2020

CRI Letter on California SB372  (January 14th, 2020)

 

2019

CRI supports RFR - Processing Payment Emergency Regulations  (December 10th, 2019)

The California Crisis – Bottle Recycling in California: How to Get Your Deposits Back (August 2019)

CRI Response to Closure of Nearly 300 Bottle Redemption Centers in CA (August 2019)

California’s CRV Beverage Container Recycling Program: Quantifying Payments to Curbside and Drop-off Programs (2017) - Updated August 2019

Summary of Findings: The operators of curbside and drop-off programs in California received $193 million in revenue from CalRecycle payments and scrap sales for CRV beverage containers in 2017. The estimated cost for handling those containers was $43 million, leading to a calculation of $150 million in gross profits, or a 349% profit. Download PDF [PDF, 449KB]

Reasonable Financial Return for recycling centers - August 23, 2019

In December 2018, CRI submitted a letter to CalRecycle in favor of emergency regulations changing the RFR used to calculate 2019 processing payments (attached). We wrote that the proposed RFRs of 11% and 16% for rural sites were “nowhere near enough to avert the impending financial crisis for redemption centers.”
Download PDF [485KB]

CRI supports AB 792 - April 23rd, 2019

We are writing in support of AB 792, which would require plastic beverage bottle manufacturers to make their bottles out of 100% recycled content by 2035, with intermediate goals to be reached incrementally.

Download PDF [485KB]

Background on California’s Convenience Zone Structure and Current Status - April 2019

A “convenience zone” is defined as the area within a half-mile radius of a supermarket that has gross annual sales of at least $2 million. By statute, the intent is to have one redemption center in each convenience zone. This would ensure that it is just as easy to return an empty beverage container for refund as it is to purchase the beverage in the first place. Download PDF [PDF, 373KB]

CRI Supports AB 815 - March 28th, 2019

We are writing in support of dual-stream recycling, in relation to AB 815, “Integrated waste management plans: source reduction and recycling element: dual stream recycling programs.”
Download PDF [705KB]

 

2018

CalRecycle 2019 Processing Payments (December 2018)

CalRecycle 2019 Processing Fees (December 2018)

CRI letter to CalRecycle in support of extending emergency regulations to boost payments to redemption centers, 12-10-18

The Container Recycling Institute supports the adoption of emergency regulations changing the reasonable financial return (RFR) applied to the calculation of processing payments for the period of January 1, 2019 to December 31, 2019.
Download PDF [PDF, 1MB]

CalRecycle Handling Fee Changes Effective July 1st, 2018 (June 2018)

 

2017

CRI Response to Emergency Increase in Processing Payment - October 13th, 2017

The Container Recycling Institute supports the proposed changes to the Reasonable Financial Return (RFR) described during the Workshop on Processing Payment Emergency Rulemaking. Based on our analyses that I will detail below, we believe this a good solution to the current problem.
Download PDF [PDF, 236KB]

California’s Beverage Container Redemption Center Crisis:  THE BIGGEST LOSERS (July, 2017)

California needs to help restore redemption center coverage in the “recycling deserts” in the state. Here’s why. (July 2017)
Download PDF [PDF, 29KB]

CRI Supports Most Budget Committee Recommendations for CalRecycle (California) - June 1, 2017

The Container Recycling Institute (CRI) supports the Assembly budget committee recommendations for CalRecycle’s Beverage Container and Litter Reduction Act program. CRI supports the budget committee proposal for funding for “enhanced oversight, audit and enforcement in the beverage container recycling program.”
Download PDF [PDF, 158KB]

 

2016

California Beverage Container Redemption Centers Lose $20 Million in 2015 Due to State Payment Shortfalls (April, 2016)

Integrity of California’s Beverage Container Deposit System  Threatened by Processing Payment Shortfalls - Report (Updated: April 2016)

Declining scrap prices coupled with problematic compensation formulas have produced processing payment shortfalls that have already forced the closure of more than 400 redemption centers in California, posing a serious threat to the state’s beverage container recycling infrastructure and sharply constricting consumers’ ability to recover the CRV (container refund value) to which they are entitled.
Download PDF [PDF, 602KB]

Processing Payment Shortfall FactSheet (Updated: April 2016)

Though it would require a statutory change, CRI recommends that the processing payment calculation method be reevaluated to protect the solvency of the recycling centers upon which the California beverage container recycling infrastructure depends.
Download PDF [PDF, 310KB]

Immediate Adjustment of Processing Payments is Needed to Avoid Further Closures of Recycling Centers in California (March, 2016)

 

2015

CRI Analysis of New CalRecycle Data Shows Beverage Container Recycling and Sales Increases (December 2015)

Overall beverage container recycling continues to hold steady at more than 80% in California (December, 2015)

 

2014

CA State Auditor Reviews CalRecycle (November 2014)

Examining the Potential for Increased Revenues in California’s Beverage Container Deposit-­‐Return Program (August 13, 2014)

CRI's letter concerning CalRecycle’s Quarterly Report on the Status of the Beverage Container Recycling Fund (July 24th, 2014)

CRI Summary of CalRecycle’s Budget Change Proposal “Increase Beverage Container Recycling Revenue through Increased Audit Coverage” First of three proposals, First Quarter 2014

CRI Summary of CalRecycle’s Budget Change Proposal “Beverage Container Recycling Program Reform Phase II: Sustainably Reducing the Structural Operating Deficit” Second of three proposals, First Quarter 2014

CRI Summary of CalRecycle’s Budget Change Proposal “Initial Transition for Support of DORIIS from Contractor to State Staffing”  Third of three proposals, First Quarter 2014

 

2013

CRI letter to CalRecycle regarding MRF performance standards (August 1st, 2013)


2009

Evaluating End-of-Life Beverage Container Management Systems for California (May 15th, 2009)

 

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