News Column

Calif. Cracking Down on Recycling Fraud

December 30, 2013

Marc Benjamin, The Fresno Bee

recycling bin

Dec. 30--Beginning Wednesday, California is cracking down on out-of-state recyclers -- a move that local companies welcome.

The new law, which goes into effect New Year's Day, limits deliveries of recycled aluminum, glass or plastics at California redemption centers to 100 pounds each. Today, the limit is 500 pounds.

Most of us never will contemplate hauling even 100 pounds of recyclables to a redemption center. CalRecycle statistics show that the average redemption is 8.7 pounds for cans and 11.6 pounds for bottles.

But nearly all of us has paid the California redemption fee -- a nickel or 10 cents depending on the beverage, churned into a state fund used to pay for returns at redemption centers.

Those fees aren't applied in other states, and over the years recyclers have figured out that it's worth the drive to haul big loads to California redemption centers to reap the reward. The scrap metal price for cans in other states is about $1 per pound, while California pays about $1.70 per pound.

The state routinely sees big out-of-state loads from Nevada, Arizona, even Mexico, said Mark Oldfield, spokesman for California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery.

What those out-of-state recyclers are doing is considered fraud, but it's hard to police. The state Department of Justice estimates the recycling fund loses about $40 million annually -- about 4% of the California Redemption Value's $1.1 billion fund -- because of container fraud, Oldfield said.

The expectation is that the new law will discourage those out-of-state recyclers from trying to score a big payday here.

"I don't know why they waited so long to do this," said Tice Ferguson, general manager of Clovis Recycling.

Beverage containers from out of state sometimes are mixed in with those from California. Redemption centers cannot differentiate the containers because they look the same as California containers and are labeled as redeemable, Ferguson said.

"I caught a couple people doing it and they don't come back," he said. "Eventually, it can really hurt us because the system could go bankrupt."

California recyclers still can buy out-of-state recyclables, but for scrap value, not the California Redemption Value.

Rick White, assistant general manager of Bruno's Scrap Metal in Fresno, said he has been warning clients who bring large amounts about the impending new law.

The program likely will result in fewer issues with illegal beverage containers being redeemed, White said.

His only concern is that some large-scale recyclers may end up throwing out their cans and bottles, leaving them in the landfill and defeating one of the purposes for having a recycling program, which was freeing up landfill space.

The state's Oldfield said legal -- and illegal -- large-volume sellers will be forced to make several trips to a particular recycling center, or divide their loads over several centers.

Inspectors investigate redemption centers that pay higher values for non-CRV containers or recyclables that are incorrectly commingled.

A related law that went into effect earlier this year prevents redemption centers from paying a California redemption value when there are items that have no recycling value (plastic milk jugs, for instance) mixed with those that have redemption value.

White said Bruno's has received one $250 fine under that law.

The consequences get higher beginning Wednesday: a $1,000 fine for buying more than 100 pounds from a seller.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6166, or @beebenjamin on Twitter.


(c)2013 The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.)

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Original headline: New recycling limits begin Wednesday in California under new law

Source: (c)2013 The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.)

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