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Six charged in $10M recycling fraud scheme

Investigators say the suspects illegally smuggled more than 9 tons of empty bottles and cans from Arizona to California to redeem recycling deposits.

Six people have been charged with recycling fraud and grand theft charges connected to a multistate scheme to defraud the California Beverage Container Recycling Program.

According to a May 25 news release from CalRecycle, investigators believe the suspects illegally smuggled more than 9 tons of empty bottles and cans from Arizona to the Los Angeles area to fraudulently redeem recycling deposits. The scheme is estimated to have defrauded the California Redemption Value (CRV) program of more than $10 million.

The program, which is overseen by CalRecycle, is subsidized by California consumers every time they buy a CRV-eligible bottle or can—paying up to 10 cents per container when they’re brought in for recycling. Only bottles and cans from California are eligible for redemption under this program.

CalRecycle works alongside our partners at the Department of Justice (DOJ) to root out fraud and safeguard the program that helped California recycle 454 billion bottles and cans and reduce trash pollution across the state,” CalRecycle Director Rachel Machi Wagoner says in a statement. “Beverage deposits belong to Californians and the state will continue to actively protect these funds.”

As reported by CBS News, Arizona does not have a similar recycling program that refunds consumers for bottles and cans that are brought in. The California DOJ investigation determined that the defendants “brought truckloads of aluminum cans and plastic bottles” from Arizona into California between September of 2021 and March of this year.

“When individuals skirt California’s recycling laws, California consumers are hurt in the process,” attorney General Bonta says. “The California Redemption program is an important tool in our efforts to encourage recycling, reduce waste, and address climate change. My office will continue to fiercely defend California's programs and resources—and we will hold bad actors who defraud our state accountable.”