California’s Recycling Center Closure Crisis
California’s container deposit system is on life support, and it’s critical to stop the rapid and acute loss of redemption centers where consumers can return their empty bottles and cans and receive back the nickel or dime deposits they paid when they purchased them.
From 2013 through mid-2019, more than 1,300 (53%) of the state’s redemption centers closed, resulting in less recovered income for consumers, fewer recycling industry jobs, a drop in the state’s recycling rate by approximately 10 percentage points,* and ensuing harm to the sustainable economy and the environment at a time when we must take every step possible to address the climate crisis and ocean plastic pollution.
The California container deposit program is beset by a host of ills: an outdated state subsidy formula that results in severe underpayments to redemption centers; historically low scrap prices; and minimum wage increases for center employees, among others.
It will take a significant overhaul to revive this system. The state’s elected officials and regulatory bodies must, at a minimum, ensure predictable and sufficient funding for the redemption centers and increase the deposit from 5 cents to 10 cents for all containers to incentivize more bottle and can returns.
The documents on this page contain additional information on the history of California’s container deposit program, including more details on how to create a healthy, vibrant system in California and stop the bleeding for good.
* California’s recycling rate was 85% in 2013, and 75.6% for 2018.
Important note: For consumers whose nearest redemption center has closed, please see the document titled “The California Crisis – Bottle Recycling in California: How to Get Your Deposits Back” (August 2019) for options on how to still redeem your empty beverage containers for cash.
CRI Letter on California SB372 (January 14th, 2020)
CRI supports RFR - Processing Payment Emergency Regulations (December 10th, 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]
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]
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]
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]
CA State Auditor Reviews CalRecycle (November 2014)
During our review of CalRecycle’s administration of the beverage program, we noted the following: The beverage program’s long term financial health is at risk the program’s costs exceeded revenues by $100 million in three of the last four fiscal years and by nearly $29 million in the past fiscal year.
Download PDF [PDF, 131KB]
Examining the Potential for Increased Revenues in California’s Beverage Container Deposit-‐Return Program (August 13, 2014)
CRI’s analysis suggests that there may be nearly 3.7 billion units (3,690,008,614 units) for which no deposit has been paid. These “free-‐riders” in the system are worth more than $206 million in potentially uncollected CRV.Get Download Link
CRI's letter concerning CalRecycle’s Quarterly Report on the Status of the Beverage Container Recycling Fund (July 24th, 2014)
The Container Recycling Institute has comments and questions for the Department to help clarify understanding of the Fund’s finances.
Download PDF [PDF, 138KB]
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
CRI letter to CalRecycle regarding MRF performance standards
CRI's 8/1/13 letter on the method used for the evaluation of recyclables and residuals at Mixed Waste Processing Facilities (MWPF) seeking certification as well as source-separated facilities.
Download PDF [PDF, 532KB]