How California's Bottle Bill Works
California's Bottle Bill follows the basic model of a bottle bill program, but has some unique characteristics that have made it a model in efficiency. Like all bottle bills, the payment of a deposit by consumers (California Redemption Value "CRV") is the backbone of the program. Consumers pay $0.05 for containers under 24 ounces and $0.10 for containers over 24 ounces. That money is returned to consumers when they recycle their containers, or is "donated" to a curbside operator or non-profit recycler depending on how the consumers choses to recycle the container. The CRV is essential to California's high beverage container recycling rate and its low beverage container litter rate; by putting a monetary value on the recycling of beverage containers, consumers are much more likely to recycle, not litter or trash, beverage containers.
Consumers have several beverage container recycling options in California. They can redeem their containers for recycling at either a supermarket-based recycling center or other privately-operated recycling center. Or they can "donate" their containers and redemption payment to either a non-profit recycling program or to their curbside recycling program.
All supermarkets in California are required to have a recycling center within a specified area around the store (called a "convenience zone"). If a recycling opportunity does not exist in this zone, then generally the supermarket, and all other retailers that sell beverage containers in that zone, must take-back containers in-store. Supermarket-based recycling centers receive a premium payment, called a handling fee, to offset the additional costs these sites incur.
However, most beverage container recycling in California does not occur at supermarket sites, nor does most recycling take place through curbside recycling as most people assume. Instead, private-sector recycling centers that generally predate California's Bottle Bill program recycle the bulk, 55%-65%, of beverage containers. Supermarket-based recyclers account for about 25% of beverage container recycling and curbside recycling accounts for about 20% of beverage container recycling.
The California Bottle Bill is a very important funding source for curbside recycling. Furthermore, curbside recycling is able to efficiently handle Bottle Bill containers because the law eliminates any need for separating CRV containers from non-CRV containers by annually establishing a statewide 'commingled rate' for each material and recycling program type. For example, the current 'commingled rate' for glass containers collected at curbside is 55%, meaning that it is presumed that 55% of total glass collected at curbside is CRV glass and redemption value is paid accordingly.
California's Bottle Bill has many extended producer responsibility elements, including the processing payment/fee. Under the Bottle Bill, manufacturers of beverage containers must pay a fee that contributes to a payment recyclers receive that offsets the cost differential between the cost to recycle that container type and the value that type of recycled material fetches on the marketplace (its "scrap price"). Because the processing fee is much higher for difficult-to-recycle container types, like #3-7 plastic, California's Bottle Bill incentivizes manufacturers to design their products with recyclability in mind.
Unlike traditional bottle bills, California's Bottle Bill utilizes the state's existing public, private and non-profit recycling infrastructure to provide beverage container recycling. By using the same infrastructure that handles most other recyclables, California's Bottle Bill compliments, rather than competes, with these programs. And by not utilizing beverage distributors, California's Bottle Bill eliminates the need for expensive and pointless sorting of beverage containers by brand and distributor.