Critic Says Can and Bottle Deposits Have Become De Facto Tax

Consumer advocates say changes in recent years have made it harder for us to get our CRV deposits

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Drivers will gripe about gas prices going up a few pennies, but many don’t think twice about throwing away their cans and bottles and losing their 5- and 10-cent CRV (California Refund Value) deposits. In fact, consumer advocate Jamie Court with Consumer Watchdog says Californians lose out on nearly $600 million every year from unredeemed cans and bottles.

“A nickel and dime are not enough incentive for people to recycle,” Court said.

Only 8.4% of discarded plastic actually goes through the full recycling process to be transformed into other products. The rest ends up in landfills. So how are so many companies still touting their plastic products as recyclable? The New York Times explains.

The problem may go beyond that Court said. There was a time when consumers could return their cans and bottles to the grocery store, but these days, most stores won’t take returns and recycling centers are not always available or convenient.

“We don’t have enough redemption centers,” Court said. “We lost over half of our redemption centers in the last five years.”

Court has pushed for legislation in Sacramento to require grocery stores and beverage companies to run the state’s cans and bottles recycling efforts. But so far the proposals have not been successful. Court said that only California and Hawaii don’t have the beverage industry responsible for recycling its own bottles and cans.

Actually, in California, large grocery chains are required to take your cans and bottles unless the store is located within a half-mile of a recycling center. If not, they can be fined by the state.

NBC 7 Responds chose 10 random grocery stores in San Diego County to see if they would redeem our cans and bottles. Only three — Ralphs in Point Loma and Carlsbad, and the Stater Brothers in Carlsbad — said they would redeem CRV items. Three others — the Vons in Mission Hills, Food4Less in National City and Vons in Las Mesa — directed us to a nearby recycling center.

“The California redemption system is in disarray,” Court said. He said there have been many changes since the CRV system was established in the 1980s. For a time, many stores would have what’s called reverse vending machines, which allowed consumers to redeem cans and bottles at the grocery store without turning them in at the register, but that system no longer exists.

Curbside recycling programs allow the public or private company that collects the cans to redeem the CRV deposits. Court believes that by making it harder for consumers to get their deposit back, the state has created a de facto tax.

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