San Francisco

Consumer Group Slams Delay in San Francisco Recycling Effort

Hundreds of plastic bottles in a pile.
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A prominent advocacy group has labeled San Francisco “the poster child” of California’s troubled bottle and can recycling program, saying not a single grocery store in the city is required to refund nickel-or-dime deposits.

The group, Consumer Watchdog, called on Gov. Gavin Newsom in a statement Monday to help fix the problems.

California is one of 10 states where consumers pay a 5- or 10-cent deposit on bottles and cans that can be redeemed when they turn in those containers, with the goal of encouraging recycling. However, many of California’s recycling centers, which are not owned or operated by the state, have closed in the past few years.

That’s made it harder for consumers to participate in the deposit-refund system for beverage containers. San Francisco currently has two redemption centers located on the southeastern outskirts of the city.

San Francisco announced a pilot project in February 2020 that includes launching a “mobile recycling program.” The mobile program is aimed at making the deposit refund process more efficient and convenient by sending trucks into city neighborhoods several times a week to make collections.

CalRecycle, the state recycling agency, certified the pilot program in July, at which point hundreds of retailers, grocers and liquor stores were no longer required to give refunds to consumers at their stores.

“But the pilot project is not up and running,” said the statement from Consumer Watchdog, which has frequently criticized CalRecycle for not adequately policing the bottle deposit system.

“San Francisco is the poster child for the failure of convenience in our bottle deposit law and the ineptitude of the government handlers of the system that have allowed fewer and fewer points of return to get your CRV back,” the statement said. CRV — the California Refund Value — is the amount paid to consumers upon return of bottles and cans.

Charles Sheehan, spokesperson for the San Francisco Department of the Environment, said the mobile program is starting Jan. 5. He said the city needed to secure funding to hire and train workers, buy the trucks and equip them with software that will read CRV labels and electronically transfer refunds as part of a high-tech new system. As part of program, it is also adding more traditional “redemption centers” where people can bring bottles and cans.

“We're putting the finishing touches on something that has never really been done before here in California on the scale that we’re envisioning in San Francisco," he said, adding that it took time to bring the program in line with the “rules and regulations coming down from CalRecycle and the state Legislature."

People in California pay an extra 5 cents for bottles that can hold up to 24 ounces and 10 cents for bottles over 24 ounces. They can get that money back if they recycle the empty cans or bottles.

Nine other states have a similar system. But most are run by the beverage industry instead of state government.

Last year, Newsom appointed Rachel Wagoner, a veteran legislative staffer, to head CalRecycle. Wagoner pledged to overhaul the agency’s troubled bottle deposit system that has worsened during the pandemic.

Wagoner responded to the Consumer Watchdog statement by saying that CalRecycle is looking forward to the start of mobile recycling project in the New Year and hopes it will “expand much needed redemption opportunities for San Francisco residents.”

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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