CalRecycle Takes Action to Support Recycling Infrastructure

California has approved Emergency Regulations this week aimed at increasing incentive payments to the State’s Beverage Container Recycling Infrastructure that has seen more than 37% of centers close since peak recycling in 2013 and recycling rates drop to a nine-year low of 77.4%.

California’s intricate network of beverage container recycling centers supports the most successful beverage container recycling program in the United States. However, faced with decreasing scrap values and outdated regulatory formulas, California’s recycling centers are facing a closure crisis

California’s State Legislature has been debating a permanent fix to the crisis for the last two years but has yet to pass legislation to update the program.

This fall, following the close of the second legislative session without action on California’s Bottle Bill, the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle), exercised its administrative authority over to propose emergency regulations to increase state payments, called processing payments, to recycling centers.

Processing payments are intended to protect recycling centers from changes in the scrap materials market. One component of the processing payment calculation is a “reasonable financial return” (RFR) for recycling centers. CalRecycle’s emergency regulations adjust what would have been a negative RFR – amounting to zero revenue for centers – to an 11.5% RFR for urban centers and a 16.6% RFR for rural centers.

The adjustment comes in light of newly released biannual data from CalRecycle demonstrating that California’s beverage container recycling rate has dropped four percentage points between fiscal year 15-16 and fiscal year 16-17, to reach a near-decade low of 77.4%. The drop in recycling equates to an additional 1.6 million beverage containers being littered or landfilled every day.

If all goes according to plan, the increased payments to recycling centers in 2018 will help struggling centers stay open, prevent California’s recycling rate from sliding even further, and allow our State Legislature a third bite at the apple of permanent reform when members return to the State Capitol in January 2018. 

One Year Later: Voter Approval of Bag Ban Results in Substantially Reduced Plastic Bag Litter and Waste

SACRAMENTO – One year after Californians voted to enact a state law banning plastic shopping bags--the first state in the nation to do so—state and local officials report a substantial drop in plastic bag litter and waste.

“One year ago, California voters approved Proposition 67 and boldly reaffirmed their support for the environment. Now, California is quickly moving past the era of throw-away plastic bags,” said California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, the author of Senate Bill 270, the state law banning single use plastic bags. “When I took on the problem of plastic bag pollution four years ago, California retailers were distributing more than 19 billion single-use plastic bags every year. Today, that number is zero. Once again California is leading the way, creating cleaner communities for all.”

Litter data from the Coastal Clean-up Day, held annually in September, shows a substantial decrease in plastic grocery bag litter, corresponding with the implementation of local and ultimately the statewide ban on single-use plastic grocery bags.
“For decades, plastic bags were one of the most common items collected during the annual California coastal cleanup,” said John Laird, California Secretary for Natural Resources. “This year, as California continues to transition to reusable bags, we are seeing a substantial decline in plastic grocery bag litter on beaches, rivers and parkways.”

As recently as 2010, volunteers documented more than 65,000 plastic bags littered along California beaches and rivers during the annual clean up, accounting for 7.4% of all items littered, 3rd most prolific behind just cigarette butts and fast food packaging.

By the 2016 clean-up, with better than 40 percent of the state covered by local bag bans, plastic grocery bag litter had dropped by 66%, accounting for less than 2% of items littered.

Final results from the September 2017 clean-up have not yet been completely tallied, but preliminary data reported by hundreds of clean-up crews covering more than 1800 miles across the state shows that plastic grocery bag litter had dropped by 72% compared to 2010, and accounts for less than 1.5% of items littered.

Prior to the enactment of SB 270 (Padilla), the Statewide ban, Californian retailers were distributing an estimated 13.8 billion plastic bags each year.

A 2014 waste characterization study by CalRecycle found that 157,395 tons of Plastic grocery and merchandise bags were disposed in the state. Despite multiple attempts at recycling, CalRecycle reports that recycling remained less than 5 percent.
Plastic is non-biodegradable and plastic bags are made from polyethylene, derived from either natural gas or petroleum. The annual US production of plastic shopping bags uses the equivalent of 1.2 million barrels of oil.

“California’s statewide plastic bag ban has elevated public awareness about the broader problem of ocean plastic pollution – and sparked public interest in taking action to reduce demand for many other kinds of single-use plastic,” said Aimee David, director of ocean conservation policy strategies for the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Proposition 67, the 2016 referendum on the state law (Senate Bill 270) passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in September 2014, passing 53.3 to 46.7 percent. The law had been challenged by the out-of-state plastic bag industry, which spent more than $6 million to repeal it.

“The 2016 election results demonstrated to policy makers that consumers strongly support the elimination of single-use plastic bags,” said Mark Murray, Executive Director of Californians Against Waste. “In the 12 California Counties that have already banned plastic bags, support was most overwhelming, with better than 66% of voters saying yes to Prop 67, and an end to polluting plastic shopping bags.”

"California’s plastic bag ban is proving to be a victory for our oceans and marine life, and for communities all over California," said Linda Escalante, Policy Advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The phase out of these plastic bags is an important step in reducing a significant and damaging source of plastic pollution that is costing California communities more than $428 million in cleanup costs.”

“The immediate success of California’s plastic bag ban has demonstrated to policy makers and the public that we don’t have to accept plastic pollution as inevitable,’ said Dan Jacobson, State Director of Environment California. “Single-use plastic packaging that cannot be reduced or recycled will be prime targets for product bans.”

Over 150 organizations back call to ban oxo-degradable plastic packaging

Plastic products that are marketed as "biodegradable" or "oxo-degradable" have exploited the wallets of environmentally minded consumers and wreaked havoc on recycling and compost facilities for many years. This is exactly why Californians Against Waste sponsored SB 567 (DeSaulnier) in 2011, which prohibits any use of the term "degradable" when marketing plastic products and requires compostable products to meet specific standards. The producers of these products claim that their "biodegradable" additives for plastics will allow the product to break down completely, within a reasonable amount of time, and without leaving behind any toxic residue. The problem is, no one can prove those statements to be true.

Plastic products labeled as "degradable" are sold as an environmentally friendly alternative, but end up competing with the truly recyclable and compostable alternatives. Often, instead of breaking down completely, "degradable" plastic will fragment into tiny pieces that remain in the environment for decades, contributing to microplastic pollution. Worst of all, these "degradable" plastics can contaminate any recycling facility or compost facility that they infiltrate, causing more material to be sent to landfills. 

This is why over 150 organizations around the world, including Californians Against Waste, have signed a collective statement to ban oxo-degradable plastic packaging. Read the full statement here. 

Will Long Beach Be California’s Next "Styrofoam"-Free City?

Just this past Tuesday, the Long Beach City Council voted unanimously to move forward with crafting a ban on the usage of toxic and prolific expanded and rigid polystyrene foam to-go food containers, often known by the trademark name “Styrofoam.”

The ban came, in part, following the release of ocean and coastal plastic pollution data conducted by Algalita Marine Research and Education on a two-mile stretch of the Long Beach coastline. The study revealed a whopping four million pieces of polystyrene litter intermingled with beach sand and coastal habitats.

In the last couple of months alone, the Cities of Milpitas and Avalon have also passed bans in their communities. Just this week, South Lake Tahoe city council voted to move forward with drafting a ban on polystyrene. Earlier this month, the City of Alameda expanded their existing ban on expanded polystyrene food take-out containers to require that all single-use food ware be fiber-based compostable.

Perpetuating the statewide movement, Long Beach is on track to become the one hundred and twelfth jurisdiction to phase-out the use of polystyrene food take-out packaging.

According to the Long Beach Post, this ordinance will likely include a phase-out of polystyrene over time; large restaurants, city-owned entities, and city-sanctioned events will be the first entities that will have to comply. The ordinance is also predicted to include a phase-out of polystyrene ice chests and the use of polystyrene beads in bean bag chairs.

Congratulations to the City of Long Beach and the advocates from Surfrider, Algalita, and others who have fought to achieve a future without unnecessary and toxic materials that, by their design, pollute our environment forever.

Governor Signs New Recycling Laws

Sunday, October 15th was the deadline for Governor Jerry Brown to sign or veto legislation that had passed the legislature. The Governor has signed 9 bills into law which represented important wins in increasing recycling and reducing edible food waste. In fact, almost every recycling bill that made it through the legislature and onto Governor Brown’s desk has been signed into law.

Here is a summary of recycling legislation signed by the Governor:

New Laws to Reduce Food Waste

  • AB 1219 (Eggman) The California Good Samaritan Food Donation Act strengthens and expands the laws which protect food donors from liability. The new law also requires health inspectors to provide education and outreach on food donor protection laws in order to put an end to the myth that businesses can be sued for donating food - a common misconception that results in food being tossed in the trash.  AB 1219 also explicitly provides protection for the donation of food that is past it's food date label, and extends liability protection to donations made directly to people in need. (CAW co-sponsored AB 1219 with CA Association of Food Banks.)
     
  • AB 954 (Chiu) addresses confusing and misleading food date labels that lead many consumers and stores to throw away perfectly good food every day. Date labels on food come in a countless variety, some that you might recognize include "use by", "best by", "sell by" or "enjoy by".

    AB 954 promotes the widespread use of two standard phrases for food date labels: “BEST if Used by” for freshness and “USE by” to indicate safety, while also discouraging consumer visible "sell by dates" that consumers confuse for expiration dates. This change will make the difference between different types of food date labels clearer for people. This new law also provides consumer education for the meaning and difference between food date labels. (CAW sponsored AB 954)
     
  • SB 557 (Hernandez) allows public schools to donate food items to food banks that have been served and placed on share tables. It’s unclear in current law if donation of unclaimed food on school share tables is allowed, leading to many schools throwing out that food. Schools now have explicit authority to donate that food to a non-profit that will redistribute it to those in need and will no longer be forced to throw out edible food. (CAW supported SB 557)

New Laws to Increase Recycling

  • AB 1158 (Chu), sponsored by the National Stewardship Action Council, will improve California's weak carpet recycling law and increase carpet recycling by 50% in two years. The new law protects consumer recycling fee funds from being inappropriately used or subsidizing the incineration of carpet, a wasteful and polluting practice. (CAW supported AB 1158)
     
  • SB 458 (Wiener) will temporarily relieve some pressure from California's beverage container recycling crisis which has led to hundreds of recycling center closures by authorizing mobile recycling center pilot programs across the state. The mobile recycling centers will operate for two years in areas where there is little to no access to a recycling location. (CAW supported SB 458)
     
  • AB 906 (Bloom) would prohibit the labeling of plastic bottles and containers with the #1 Resin ID Code (for PET/ PETE plastic) if they are made from PET-G. Because it has different physical properties and melting points, PET-G plastic cannot be recycled with other PET. This new law requires PET-G bottles and containers to be labeled with a #7 Resin ID Code, and requires manufacturers that use this material to pay a greater share of the cost of recycling the containers. Read more.  (CAW supported AB 906)
     
  • AB 1294 (Berman) stops greenwashing claims by permanently extending a requirement that manufacturers and suppliers of plastic food containers maintain documentation that prove their recycled content claims. This law was set to end in 2018, but it has proven to be useful in keeping recycled content claims truthful. Permanent extension of this law ensures that Californians can trust environmental claims made on plastic food containers. (CAW supported AB 1294)
     
  • AB 1572 (Aguiar-Curry) extends a law that makes it easier for local governments to report on their compliance with the state’s waste reduction and recycling law. This policy has proven to reduce complexity of reporting requirements and free up more time for local governments to focus on implementing their recycling programs. (CAW supported AB 1572)

New Investments in Waste Reduction Infrastructure

  • AB 109 included a $40 million investment from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund for the state’s recycling agency, CalRecycle. This money funds programs such as the Organics Grant program, which funds new or expanded composting and anaerobic digester facilities and their food recovery partners, the Recycling Manufacturing Grant program, which funds new or expanded facilities that use post-consumer recycled materials to produce new products, and the newly formed Food Waste Prevention and Rescue grant program, which funds projects that divert edible food from landfills by reducing food waste or rescuing food for redistribution to people in need. This new food waste prevention and recovery grant program, which will now be extended for a second cycle, marks the first time that the CalRecycle has offered funding for organizations such as food banks and food pantries to increase their capacity for edible food rescue. (CAW supported AB 109)

Legislation Vetoed by Governor Brown

  • AB 725 (Levine) & SB 386 (Glazer) would have made all state parks and beaches smoke-free. Cigarette butts are the most commonly found item during beach and waterway cleanups, consistently ranking first according to International Coastal Cleanup data. Both bills were vetoed by the Governor. (CAW supported AB 725 & SB 386)

Governor Brown Signs Bill to End Expiration Date Confusion

SACRAMENTO – Governor Brown has signed AB 954, by Assembly Member David Chiu, into law, a bill which will promote the widespread use of standard phrases for food date labels in order to provide more clarity to consumers on the shelf life of their food. Misinterpretation of food date labels is a key factor leading to food waste in American households and supermarkets.

“Every day we open our refrigerators and wonder what the dates on our food mean,” said author of AB 954, Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco). “In a state where 6 million families are food insecure, a startling amount of food is being wasted every single day because of arbitrary date labels. Consumers deserve to know what our labels mean and whether or not our food is safe to eat. This bill mirrors industry best practices and moves us closer to uniform date labels, which will reduce unnecessary food waste.”

Date labels on food come in a countless variety, some common phrases include, “sell by”, “enjoy by”, “best by”, and “best before”. AB 954 simplifies date labels by promoting two standard types of phrases, “BEST if Used by” or “BEST if Used or Frozen by” to indicate peak freshness, and “USE by” or “USE or Freeze by” to indicate food safety. The use of “Sell by” date labels that are visible to consumers will also be discouraged, due to the fact that these date labels are only meant for stock rotation but are often mistaken as an indication of food safety. The new law also provides consumer education, which is a key component that will result in a more complete understanding of food date labels among the public.

“Many cautious consumers see these dates and toss out perfectly healthy and wholesome food just because it is past "the date" on the package,” said Nick Lapis, Director of Advocacy at Californians Against Waste. “Promoting consistent terminology for date labels will give consumers confidence that they’re food is safe to eat and may not need to be thrown out.”

Earlier this week, Governor Brown has also signed another piece of legislation that compliments AB 954 in the effort to reduce food waste. AB 1219, the California Good Samaritan Food Donation Act by Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton), strengthens and expands on existing liability protections for food donors in order to make more food available to food insecure Californians, and ensure that less edible food is sent to landfills.

Californians Against Waste sponsored AB 954 and co-sponsored AB 1219 with the California Association of Food Banks.

Los Angeles County Poised to Phase-Out Polystyrene Packaging

Yesterday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors adopted a motion to update and expand a 2011 study of the effects of single-use polystyrene plastic packaging. The motion was co-authored by Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Janice Hahn.

Polystyrene packaging, often known by its trade name, ‘Styrofoam,’ is a ubiquitous source of ocean pollution. Even properly disposed of polystyrene breaks down into small pieces that coagulate in a toxic soup in our ocean or are mistaken for food by wildlife.

The 2011 study commissioned by the County noted that viable and affordable packaging alternatives exist, but the County postponed a polystyrene ban in favor of statewide action. However, the state bill in motion at the time failed to become law and the momentum for a Los Angeles County ban has been stalled ever since.

The State of California aimed to push forward a statewide ban again this year with Senator Allen’s SB 705, but the bill is currently stalled and cannot be reconsidered until 2018.

While the State continues to work towards a statewide ban, Los Angeles County has an opportunity to join more than 100 jurisdictions that have already banned polystyrene and demonstrate that Californians are committed to getting plastics out of our ocean.

The new study must be completed in the next 120 days, at which time Los Angeles County will be able to consider a permanent phase-out of this pervasive material.

 

California is Working to Curb its Food Waste

Many organizations have their own initiatives to increase awareness concerning food waste, as well as efforts to reduce food waste, as the issue has garnered national attention for its urgency.

Here are some ways that California has taken the lead on the fight against food waste.

For the first time ever CalRecycle, the state’s recycling agency, is offering $5 million through the Food Waste Prevention & Rescue Grant Program. Eligible projects include:

  1. Projects preventing food waste from being generated and becoming waste destined for landfills; and
  2. Food rescue projects that result in rescued food being distributed to people.

The grant application deadline is July 18. Program funding ranges from $25,000 to $500,000. This program is the first of its kind in California and offers groups such as food banks and food pantries funding from the state to acquire much needed resources like refrigerated trucks and staff time. Take advantage of this while you can!

CalRecycle, in conjunction with the California Air Resources Board, is also holding public workshops and requesting public input for policy implementation recommendations for achieving the goals and mandates set forth in SB 1383, the Short Lived Climate Pollutant Reduction Act. One of those mandates includes a 20% reduction in edible food waste that is sent to landfills by 2025. These initiatives will help the state get one step closer to realizing our edible food recovery goals.

National trade associations have joined forces to standardize date labeling on food packaging among their members. The initiative would result in only two phrases used on packaging (“BEST If Used By” for quality and “USE By” for safety), instead of the plethora currently in use that lead to consumer confusion, and ultimately, food waste. This food date label initiative, along with CAW sponsored legislation AB 954 (Chiu), encourages manufacturers to use uniform phrases. However, these efforts will eventually lead to more widespread use of these uniform phrases for date labels that will decrease food waste.

AB 1219 (Eggman), the California Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, which CAW is a co-sponsor alongside the California Association of Food Banks (CAFB), provides statewide outreach for Good Samaritan laws which protect good faith food donors along, which is something that has not yet been done. Despite existing federal and state protections, many businesses are still fearful of being sued because of donated food.

AB 954 and AB 1219 have both passed the Assembly, Senate policy committees, and will now be heard in the Senate’s fiscal committee before being voted on by the entire Senate floor. Read more about these measures here.

The consequences of food waste and the ways in which food waste can be avoided are slowly becoming better understood and more widely discussed. Let’s keep food waste on our state’s agenda, and we’ll find more ways to waste less good food and help the Earth too.

Learn more about Food Waste »

Learn more about AB 954 (Chiu) The Food Waste Reduction & Date Labeling Act »

Learn more about AB 1219 (Eggman) The California Good Samaritan Food Donation Act »

Living Plastic-Free this July (And Beyond)

The notion of living plastic-free seems quite daunting, and maybe a little silly. July is Plastic-Free Month, so we thought this would be the perfect opportunity to reassess our lifestyle choices and be more mindful of our actions and their environmental consequences. Changing your lifestyle so drastically may appear fruitless in the grand scheme of things, but making these small changes makes a world of difference, trust me. 

Here are some easy ways to reduce your plastic consumption:

1.      Buy and store in bulk. Bring your own reusable containers and bags to the grocery store. Buy products in bulk to save on cost and unnecessary packaging waste. This will also encourage you to follow a less-processed (and more vegan) lifestyle.

2.      Use natural remedies for personal care. Have fun experimenting with recipes to make your own beauty and personal care products, instead of buying commercial products with plastic packaging and harmful chemical additives.

3.      Start composting. You’ll learn that once you begin eliminating your wet waste (fresh produce) from your waste stream, you’ll no longer need plastic garbage bags. Composting is extremely convenient, can happen right in your backyard, and is great top soil for your home garden!

4.      Learn to bring your own. Get into the habit of bringing your own reusable straw and takeout packaging. Living plastic-free may seem to isolate you from certain activities, but it doesn’t have to if you make a point of coming prepared!

5.      Start collecting your waste. Keep a bag of all your plastic waste. You will become more cognizant of your consumption habits and be more likely to institute change. Our patterns of consumption are so engrained that we often overlook all our instances of waste. Slow down and try to understand all your purchases and activities that involve or further encourage your use of plastic.

For inspiration and more ideas, check out Beth Terry’s website at https://myplasticfreelife.com.

Some other great resources:

·         http://www.plasticpollutioncoalition.org/get-started-living-plastic-free/

·         http://www.onegreenplanet.org/lifestyle/two-years-of-living-plastic-free-how-i-did-it-and-what-ive-learned/

·         https://www.lifewithoutplastic.com/store/

How to Make this Fourth of July Eco-Friendly

The Fourth of July is one of my favorite times of the summer. Family members travel long distances to see each other, watermelon is in season and juicier than ever, and everyone is in a celebratory mood that seems to lift the heavy heat from your shoulders. Unfortunately, Fourth of July celebrations can also be extremely wasteful, as the barbecue is lit for hours and convenient disposable food ware takes center stage.

Here are some tips you can use this summer to make your Fourth of July celebratory and kind to the environment!

1.      Buy local, organic, and vegan. Make your food travel as small a distance as possible to your plate. Minimize your consumption of produce grown using deleterious pesticides and other chemicals that harm your health as well as the soil. Buying vegan is not only an innovative way to help the animals, but it also decreases the carbon footprint of your meal dramatically, as less resources, time, and distance is spent on bringing vegan ingredients to your table.

2.      Grill wisely. Although there is no way to grill without polluting, we can minimize our environmental impact by choosing electric or propane grills over charcoal grills. Research all the options of products that you can use in your grill, experimenting with the source of your coal and the type of lighter fluid you use.

3.      Ditch the disposable. Encourage your guests to bring their own utensils and dishes to minimize waste. If that proves to be inconvenient, use your own food ware and enlist the help of your guests in the cleanup process. Same goes for your decorations. If decorations are a must for setting the celebratory tone, save your decorations from year to year or think unconventionally and use items that are already around your house to decorate your abode without unnecessary consumption.

4.      Opt for community fireworks. Look for locations in your greater community that are hosting firework celebrations instead of discharging your own dangerous chemicals and smoke into our atmosphere. The Earth will thank you!

For more ideas on how to make your Fourth of July more considerate of our environment, check out these resources:

·       http://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/2015-4-july-august/green-life/5-ways-green-your-4th-july

·         http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/01/green-july-4th-eco-friendly_n_889055.html

·         http://earth911.com/home-garden/8-ways-to-green-4th-of-july/

'Styrofoam': We Lost a Battle, but We'll Win the War

Just hours after President Trump’s announcement that he intends to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords, SB 705 (by Senator Allen) to ban so called ‘Styrofoam’ takeout containers, came up 6 votes short on the floor of the State Senate.

As the LA Times reported last week, “SB 705 failed to pass Wednesday not because a majority of senators didn’t vote for it, but because a handful of Democratic senators choose the craven path — not to vote at all. As President Trump might say, sad!"

You would think that a 30-year history of successful local ordinances and hundreds of calls and letters from constituents would have had an effect, but Dart Container Corporation and the American Chemistry Council spent millions on lobbyists, campaign contributions, Super PACs, and deceptive ads.

Sound familiar?

We’ve been here before—with plastic bags and microbeads—facing off against some of the same special interests trying desperately to hold on to their ability to sell products that inevitably pollute our rivers, parks, and beaches. But don’t forget—we’ve beaten them before. 

Here's how we win again: 

As this morning’s LA Times so aptly put it, “If such a law couldn’t pass in a year when California’s leaders were doubling as defenders of the global environment, it may take 100 more city bans to force legislators to take it seriously. So bring them on.”

Bring them on indeed!

Learn more about SB 705 (Allen) The Ocean Pollution Prevention Act

Learn more about Polystyrene Pollution and Other Non-Recyclable Plastics

Mark Murray: California Recycling In Decline

 
 

The following text is from Sea Change Radio's website. See the original webpage here.

In 2013 California boasted a recycling rate of 85%. In 2017 that number is now 79% – that is the first time it has dipped below 80% since 2008. Why is the most populous state in the union moving in the wrong direction on this important indicator? This week on Sea Change Radio we speak with Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste, a nonprofit environmental group that was founded forty years ago to advocate for beverage container recycling in the state. He will explain this troubling trend and talk about what can be done to get California’s recycling program back on its previous trajectory.

State Leaders Should Care About Plastic Bottles as Much as Plastic Bags

The following text is as published by the San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board on May 22, 2017. See the original article here

Last year, California voters made the state the first in the nation with a ban on single-use plastic bags by approving Proposition 67. The argument that the durable bags were a long-term threat to land and sea carried the day.

Against this backdrop, it is perverse that the state program that oversees collection and recycling of single-use plastic, metal and glass bottles from consumers in return for giving them back 5-cent and 10-cent deposits is faltering. The 1987 “Bottle Bill” that set up this recycling incentive included a provision that directed unredeemed deposits to the CalRecycle agency for use in reimbursing bottle-collection sites when scrap plastic, glass and metal prices are too low for the sites to make money. But as detailed in a column in Friday’s newspaper by Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste, more than 560 recycling centers have closed since January 2016 because scrap prices are at record lows and CalRecycle won’t adjust its rates.

Former EPA official Jared Blumenfeld wrote recently in The Sacramento Bee that as a result, “every day 2 million additional containers are littered or sent to a landfill, including more than 1 million plastic bottles every day.” Every day!

Officials with the Brown administration say CalRecycle doesn’t have the flexibility to increase the rates. Recyclers say yes, the agency does because of legislation that says that the state shall provide “reasonable financial returns” to bottle collectors. But if the state thinks it’s right, why doesn’t Gov. Jerry Brown order his staff to draft a bill that would give CalRecyle the authority it needs?

California’s self-inflicted recycling crisis needs fix

The following text is as published by the San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board on May 18, 2017. See the original article here

Californians consume a staggering 64 million single-use plastic, metal and glass beverage containers every day — more than 1 million tons of beverage packaging annually.

Thanks to the “Bottle Bill” — California’s 30-year-old recycling incentive policy — for the better part of the last decade, more than 80 percent of beverage packaging has been recycled.

In a state that prides itself on its commitment to recycling, no other product, material or program has come close to matching the Bottle Bill’s level of recycling success. And no other beverage container recycling program in North America has been found to be as cost-effective.

While nickel and dime refund values are responsible for stimulating consumer collection — 68 percent of containers are still redeemed for cash by consumers — a key to program success has been beverage industry payments that cover the cost of recycling when scrap values are insufficient to do so.

But starting in January 2016, the wheels began to fall off. Despite record low material scrap prices, state determined processing payments failed to cover net recycling costs or provide legislatively mandated “reasonable financial returns.” CalRecycle cited inflexible and outdated regulations and statutory provisions for the snafu which immediately began shorting the state’s public and private recycling infrastructure upward of $2 million per month.

The response of the marketplace was swift. On Jan. 31, 2016, Replanet, which runs the state’s largest recycling network, announced the closing of 191 centers and the layoff of 278 employees. Others followed suit, and by April 1, 2016, more than 400 centers had closed.

Efforts by stakeholders and the state Assembly to address the problem in the 2016-17 state budget were ultimately opposed by the governor’s office, amid vague calls for a more comprehensive reform.

Fast forward to May 2017: The promised reform proposal from the governor’s office has yet to materialize. Recycling center closures have reached more than 560 centers — roughly 25 percent of the infrastructure. Revenue loss to the public and private recycling operators is on track to exceed $50 million by the end of June, at the same time that the program’s year-end fund balance is expected to top $250 million. In the meantime, container recycling rates have fallen below 80 percent for the first time since 2008.

Frustrated members of the Legislature have all but given up on the governor’s office to offer necessary administrative changes. In April, state Senate Environmental Quality Committee Chairman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, introduced legislation to simply hand the $1.3 billion per year recycling program over to the beverage industry to operate.

While the governor’s office and legislators argue over details of a fix, the failure to resolve the issue is costing consumers and the state’s once pre-eminent recycling infrastructure tens of millions of dollars.

The reduced recycling means that every day 2 million additional containers are littered or landfilled, including more than 1 million plastic bottles every day. The loss of recycling centers has hit rural areas especially hard. For consumers who try to supplement family income by redeeming containers, the loss of buy-back recycling locations has reduced total redemption payback by more than $3 million per month.

The governor’s proposed 2017-18 budget presents a critical opportunity for policy makers to come together and fix what’s been broken: Use surplus program revenue to return recycling center funding to 2015 levels, and provide supplemental funding to reopen closed rural centers. It should also include a timeline for closing container exemption loopholes and require beer and soft drink makers to cover at least half the cost of recycling their containers — about two-tenths of a cent per container sold.

As recently as 2013, the California Bottle Bill was humming along at an 85 percent recycling rate, diverting more than 1 million tons of plastic, glass and metal, and contributing thousands of jobs and more than $2 billion to the state’s economy, while delivering the equivalent of 1.45 million tons of reduced carbon dioxide emissions.

Consumers and stakeholders would certainly welcome a program update and expansion, but while we wait for a consensus on that, policy makers should stick to the basics and fix what’s broken.

Murray is executive director of Californians Against Waste.

Learn more about the Bottle Bill Crisis

Urgent Bottle Bill Fix Needed to Address Recycling Center Closures

Hundreds of recycling locations have closed in the last 14 months due to a drop in commodity scrap values, and a subsequent failure of the Bottle Bill's ‘Processing Payment’ mechanism to offset that drop in value as promised by statute.  

As a result: 

•    California’s recycling infrastructure is losing $1.25 million per month in reduced payments
•    As a direct result of these reduced payments, 493 recycling locations have closed.
•    Overall container recycling rates have fallen below 80% for the first time since 2008
•    Rural areas have been particularly hard hit, with some areas of the state now having little or no practical redemption opportunity.  

Closed centers have been replaced with pseudo-redemption at hundreds of retail locations, which has proven to be ineffectual, costly and inconvenient (for both consumers and  grocery stores).

CalRecycle data shows that recycling levels have dropped across the state, with especially significant drops in Northern California, and consumers are foregoing as much as $335,000 per month unredeemed deposit (California Refund Value or “CRV”) compared to 2015.

A Two-Part (Short-term/Long-term) Legislative Solution is Needed

•    A short term, temporary urgency bill is needed to address the flawed payment shortfall at the root of the recycling center closures.
•    A second legislative measure or budget proposal should be pursued to update program priorities identified in the Governor’s Budget proposal

We believe elements of the Urgency fix should include: 

1)    Return the Recycling Cost basis for Processing Payments to 2015 levels and adjust processing payments retroactive to January 1, potentially increasing payments to recyclers by $17.9 million in 2017.
2)    Authorize CalRecycle to offer Handling Fees to any recycler willing to set up business anywhere (mobile or stationary) within a currently unserved zone. 
3)    Temporarily suspend costly enforcement efforts on beverage dealers in recently unserved zones, redirecting staff and resources to recruiting and siting viable recycling center operators in unserved zones.

Without these urgent amendments, centers will remain closed, rates will continue to fall, consumer frustration will grow, and efforts to find a ‘comprehensive fix’ will continue to be undermined by a compromised infrastructure.

If you want to help support this effort or get updates, please email us at : info@cawrecycles.org

CA District Attorneys Reach A $935,000 Settlement With Walmart Over Misleading Greenwashing Claims

Sacramento - The Alameda County District Attorney, along with 22 other District Attorneys, announced today that they have reached a settlement with Walmart and its subsidiaries regarding the sale of illegally labeled products that claim to be degradable. The settlement requires Walmart to pay nearly $1 million, the largest fine issued to-date for the sale of products that make misleading environmental claims. A press release from Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley is attached.

In 2011, Californians Against Waste sponsored legislation (SB 567, by Senator Mark DeSaulnier) which prohibited the use of the terms “degradable,” “biodegradable,” and “decomposable,” among others, from being used on any plastic products. Products may only be labeled with the terms "compostable," "home compostable," or "marine degradable" if they meet strict international standards.

Teresa Bui, Senior Analyst for Californians Against Waste, issued the following statement:

"We commend the state's District Attorneys for enforcing California's nation-leading consumer protection laws. This action will keep consumers from being deceived by the false and misleading degradability claims that have unfortunately become all too common on plastic cutlery, takeout food packaging, bags, and other plastic products.

Consumers are paying more for products that don't perform any different than traditional plastics when they are disposed, and, in fact, are considered a contaminant in both recycling and composting programs. This is especially egregious because the products with misleading claims compete with products that are truly compostable or are made with recycled content, and the prevalence of these deceptive claims undercuts consumer confidence in all sustainable products."