New recycling limits begin Wednesday in California under new law

mbenjamin@fresnobee.com rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com December 31, 2013 

Beginning Wednesday, California is cracking down on out-of-state recyclers, a move that local companies welcome.

The new law, which goes into effect Wednesday, limits deliveries of recycled aluminum, glass or plastics at California redemption centers to 100 pounds each. Today, the limit is 500 pounds.

Most of us never will contemplate hauling even 100 pounds of recyclables to a redemption center. CalRecycle statistics show that the average redemption is 8.7 pounds for cans and 11.6 pounds for bottles.

But nearly all of us have paid the California redemption fee – a nickel or 10 cents depending on the beverage – churned into a state fund used to pay for returns at redemption centers.

Those fees aren’t applied in other states, and over the years recyclers have figured out that the drive to haul big loads to California redemption centers to reap the reward is worthwhile. The scrap metal price for cans in other states is about $1 per pound; California pays about $1.70 per pound.

The state routinely sees big out-of-state loads from Nevada, Arizona, even Mexico, said Mark Oldfield, spokesman for the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery.

What those out-of-state recyclers are doing is considered fraud, but it’s hard to police. The state Department of Justice estimates the recycling fund loses about $40 million annually – or about 4 percent of the California Redemption Value’s $1.1 billion fund – because of container fraud, Oldfield said.

The expectation is that the new law will discourage those out-of-state recyclers from trying to score a big payday here.

“I don’t know why they waited so long to do this,” said Tice Ferguson, general manager of Clovis Recycling.

Beverage containers from out of state sometimes are mixed in with those from California. Redemption centers cannot differentiate the containers because they look the same as California containers and are labeled redeemable, Ferguson said.

“I caught a couple people doing it and they don’t come back,” he said. “Eventually, it can really hurt us because the system could go bankrupt.”

In Merced County, owners of several recycling sites said they support the new law but believe out-of-state recyclers aren’t common in the region. “We don’t buy cans from other states and we check every can’s CRV,” said Sergio Mondragon, owner of Joyee’s Recycling in Merced.

Victor Medina, owner of Medina’s Recycling in Winton, has been operating his business for about six months. He said he sees a couple of recyclers from Oregon and Nevada each month, but refuses to take their aluminum cans. “I don’t take the cans because it’s illegal,” Medina said. “If I see someone coming with (out-of-state) cans, I have to report it to the state. But I don’t think it’s a problem in Merced.”

Medina said he doesn’t see the benefit of hauling recyclables from outside the state. After all, the haulers waste their time traveling and paying for gas. “It’s a lot of work to bring cans from out-of-state, and there’s no profit in that,” he said.

California recyclers still can buy out-of-state recyclables, but for scrap value, not the California Redemption Value.

Rick White, assistant general manager of Bruno’s Scrap Metal in Fresno, said he has been warning clients who bring large amounts about the new law.

The program likely will result in fewer issues with illegal beverage containers being redeemed, White said.

His only concern is that some large-scale recyclers may end up throwing out their cans and bottles, leaving them in the landfill and defeating one of the purposes of a recycling program – freeing up landfill space.

The state’s Oldfield said legal and illegal large-volume sellers will be forced to make several trips to a particular recycling center, or divide their loads over several centers.

Inspectors investigate redemption centers that pay higher values for non-CRV containers or recyclables that are incorrectly mingled.

A related law that went into effect earlier this year prevents redemption centers from paying a California Redemption Value when there are items that have no recycling value (plastic milk jugs, for instance) mixed with those that have redemption value.

White said Bruno’s has received one $250 fine under that law.

The consequences get higher beginning Wednesday: a $1,000 fine for buying more than 100 pounds from a seller.

Marc Benjamin can be reached at (559) 441-6166, mbenjamin@fresnobee.com or @beebenjamin on Twitter. Sun-Star staff writer Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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