August 1, 2023
An Open Letter to California Governor Gavin Newsom
By Joel D. Joseph
(Mr. Joseph is CEO of the California Association for Recycling All Trash (CARAT) and author of Plastic Pollution Solution)
Dear Governor Newsom,
California is often on the leading edge of technology in the world. If California were a nation, it would have the fifth largest economy in the world, ahead of France, Italy, the UK and India. California claims to be a green economy with the largest solar power capacity of any state by far. It produces 31,871 megawatts of solar power annually, the equivalent of 8.5 million homes. It also produces an addition 5.8 megawatts of wind power.
California, along with nine other states, requires that deposits be paid on plastic, glass and metal bottles and cans. States with deposit laws have much higher recycling rates than states without these bottle deposit laws. California requires all grocery stores to charge a deposit fee and to accept the return of these bottles and repay customers’ deposits. During the pandemic, most stores stopped accepting the returns of bottles and cans. The California Association for Recycling All Trash (CARAT) has persuaded, litigated and pressured more than 1,000 grocery stores to comply with California’s established recycling laws.
But California’s bottle recycling law has a very large loophole that allows more than 800 stores in California to ignore the recycling laws. Current law allows stores to pay a fee of $100 per store per day not to comply with the law. This “so called” penalty allows these companies to pay $36,500 per store per year to avoid mandated recycling.
The California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery received $29,309,500 in 2022 from stores who refused to accept the returns of bottles and cans. CARAT obtained this information from the Department of Resources Recycling with a California Public Records Act request. This is comparable to the federal Freedom of Information Act.
The California Department of Resources Recycling has done little to enforce recycling laws and is comfortable to provide exemptions for these legal bribery payments. The Department sued CVS and recovered a fine of $3.6 million, but CVS still does not accept the return of bottles and cans. It appears that the Resources Recycling Department only cares about the money.
Leading the list of scofflaw companies is Whole Foods, the chain of providers of allegedly health and environmentally conscious products. Whole Foods paid the Recycling Department $1.752 million last year to avoid compliance with recycling laws. Trader Joe’s paid a similar amount. Costco and Ralphs each paid $1.168 million to skirt the law.
Instead of paying these fines, companies could have purchased a reverse vending machine. Kansmacker Industries of Michigan makes a reverse vending machine that accepts bottles and cans for redemption and issues a credit to customers to use at their stores. The machines compress the bottles and cans and makes recycling easier. These machines cost $17,000 each, less than half the fine that these stores pay per year for not recycling. In addition, stores would benefit because customers typically come back into the store to redeem bottle and cans and are issued a credit to buy more items at the store.
I call upon the State of California to amend its bottle deposit law by deleting the loophole that allows stores to buy their way out of compliance. Michigan has a deposit of 10 cents for small bottles and 20 cents for large ones, twice the rate paid in California. Michigan also has the highest recycling rate in the country because of its higher deposits. California has not changed the deposit amount in more than 30 years. I think that it is about time that California raised the deposit on bottles and cans so that we can reduce plastic waste. As a side benefit, homeless people, and others can and will help clean up streets littered with bottles and cans while earning some additional pocket money.