California shaping up as beverage container recycling battleground

California shaping up as beverage container recycling battleground

Golden State legislature being lobbied for bottle bill reform, while national trade groups propose national framework.

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January 16, 2020

Santa Monica, California-based Consumer Watchdog is lining up legislative support in that state for bolstering producer responsibility aspects of California’s beverage container deposit law. The same mid-January day that proposal was being considered in a state legislative committee, a consortium of food, beverage and retailing trade associations announced their effort to “to build a public policy framework to fundamentally reimagine the United States’ recycling system.”

In California, Consumer Watchdog is calling on the state government to “make the beverage industry accountable for recycling and redemption of its containers.” The organization’s January 44-page report, titled “Trashed: How California recycling failed and how to fix it,” cites problems with the state’s California Redemption Value (CRV) bottle bill system that include a lack of funding, high contamination rates and a lack of retailer cooperation in accepting bottle and can returns.

The report’s author, Consumer Watchdog staff member Liza Tucker, says the group conducted a year-long investigation into the CRV system’s woes. It concluded, among other things, the state should “enforce the existing bottle deposit law by levying meaningful fines on retail stores for each day, including retroactively, that they shirk their current recycling responsibilities.”

Another producer responsibility aspect recommended by Consumer Watchdog is to “call for reform of the bottle law to shift responsibility for the recycling of containers to the beverage industry, with the legislature setting a 90 percent redemption target and CalRecycle enforcing the law.” The report also calls for wine and distilled spirits packaging to be added to the CRV system.

State agency CalRecycle’s ongoing role in California’s beverage container picture was one of the topics of conversation when the state senate’s Environment Quality Committee met Jan. 15. Legislators were scheduled to discuss a proposed bill that would enact several of Consumer Watchdog’s recommendations to overhaul the CRV system.

Retailers and brand owners have historically opposed packaging producer responsibility laws, and the new effort announced by the consortium of associations may continue that history. In a mid-January news release posted to the website of the Arlington, Virginia-based Consumer Brands Association (CBA), the consortium urges United States senators to bring together “a diverse group of stakeholders from consumer-facing industries, packaging companies and the recycling ecosystem, to build a public policy framework to fundamentally reimagine the U.S. recycling system.”

That reimagining would presumably replace producer responsibility obligations with what the CBA calls “big ideas to create modern and scalable solutions [that] maintain affordability, safety and reliability of consumer products.” These ideas, adds the CBA, would “seek uniformity of recycling rules and practices” on a national scale.

The CBA, formerly known as the Grocery Manufacturers Association, says its allies in the effort include the American Beverage Association, AMERIPEN, Closed Loop Partners, the Consumer Technology Association, the Distilled Spirits Council, the Food Marketing Institute, the Glass Packaging Institute, the Household & Commercial Products Association, the International Franchise Association, the National Restaurant Association, the National Retail Federation, The Recycling Partnership and the Wine Institute.

The consortium effort will operate under the name Recycling Leadership Council, and the CBA says the council will host regional roundtables throughout the U.S. in 2020. Those events will be designed to “bring together diverse stakeholders to discuss best practices in current industry action, technological innovation and public-private partnerships, as well as examine the challenges faced by local recycling systems.”