After almost a decade collecting recyclables in the parking lot of Merced's Wal-Mart, Bi-Rite Recycling has been notified it must leave to comply with city codes.
But the booting of Bi-Rite off Wal-Mart property might be more about business than city codes. As of last year, almost all Wal-Mart's 4,200 locations had already gone into the recycling business.
Wal-Mart's spokesperson, Kory Lundberg, contends that the removal of all recycling sites similar to Bi-Rite from their properties was to reduce the nonrecyclables abandoned on them.
But Wal-Mart's own expanding recycling program points in another direction.
In 2005 Wal-Mart's CEO, Lee Scott, made a sustainability speech, said Lundberg. It painted a future for the company including zero waste, 100 percent recycling and green products.
In 2007 Wal-Mart, as part of this push, rolled out an in-store recycling program that now produces 10 million pounds of recycled material a month nationwide, according to Lundberg.
The retail giant has taken what used to be a cost and turned it into a revenue stream, he said.
The program doesn't include public can and bottle drop-offs yet, said Lundberg. But, he added, "It is something we are looking into."
Lundberg said Wal-Mart wants to have "dedicated facilities" for recycling, instead of the sites now in operation.
"Unfortunately, those unattended drop-off centers in our parking lots have been used to drop off nonrecyclables," he said.
Dawne Azevedo, who owns Bi-Rite, has tried and failed to negotiate with Wal-Mart over their issues.
"Basically, they said I'm dirty," said Azevedo. "This is very upsetting. This is my livelihood."
On Oct. 13 Azevedo received a letter from Wal-Mart, dated Aug. 21, notifying her that she had to be off the premises by Sept. 30.
The letter said the recycling location wasn't up to code. "Wal-Mart has created a plan of action to better control litter and address shopping cart abandonment so as to comply with Merced Municipal code 8.40.010 (O) and 8.30, respectively," read a section of the letter.
After getting the notification, which was addressed to her deceased husband, Acevedo contacted the code enforcement department of the city to find out if, in fact, any codes had been violated.
The department, in turn, wrote her that no complaints had been made about Bi-Rite.
If Bi-Rite is moved Wal-Mart may benefit, said Azevedo.
State law requires that every store that sells more than $2.5 million worth of redeemable bottles and cans has to have a nearby recycling center, she explained.
So if her site is closed, another would have to be opened to meet the rule. If Wal-Mart makes those kinds of sales, a new recycling center would have to open nearby.
As it stands the state regulates how much Azevedo must pay for each can or bottle she collects. But what she gets for selling recyclables to processors is unregulated. Her small operation is unable to influence how much processors pay her, she said.
But she has no doubt that Wal-Mart's size would enable it to get more money for its recyclables than Bi-Rite can.
With oil prices rising every year, recycled plastics convert into more and more money. "As the price of oil and natural gas goes up, the price of plastics go up," said Michael Montpetit, a plastics specialist with Buckeye Polymers. In 2003 new polymers cost 30 cents a pound, said Montpetit; now they are at 60 cents.
"I'll give them kudos for trying to do this," said Montpetit about Wal-Mart's recycling programs.
But for Renato Piceno, who works for Bi-Rite, who may lose his job or have reduced hours, this isn't good news. "It's already rough," he said. "Someone will lose their job."
Reporter Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at
(209) 385-2484 or