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California Bottle Bill at a glance

The California Beverage Container Recycling and Litter Reduction Act, first passed in 1986, applies a refund value to most glass and plastic bottles and aluminum cans.

The deposit for beverage containers is 5 cents for containers less than 24 ounces and 10 cents for those 24 ounces or larger.

Containers for milk, wine or distilled spirits are excluded from the California Redemption Value, or CRV, though in the latest attempt to incentivize greater recycling and reuse of glass wine and spirit bottles, state Senate President Pro Temp Toni Atkins recently introduced a bill that would require deposits on them, as well. It passed unanimously out of the California Senate Environmental Quality Committee on Wednesday.

Most stores that sell CRV-labeled beverages are required to buy back the empties, though they’re exempt if there’s a certified redemption center within a half-mile. They also can choose to pay a $100 a day fee in lieu of going to the trouble of staffing and handling returns. Many do.

Even markets that should redeem containers often don’t, or workers may not know if they do, surveys show. In 2019, an investigation into CVS Pharmacy stores in California showed that 81 of 848 sites refused to redeem CRV containers. In 2020, after many buy-back centers closed, they still accounted for more than twice the number of container returns as retail stores.

About 85% of bottles and cans turned in for recycling have been redeemed at certified sites or retail markets, even with the rise of curbside recycling, which accounts for about 12% of CRV collections. Combined, they account for more than $1 billion a year paid out in redemption credit.

But they aren’t comparable.

Cans and bottles returned for redemption credit are required to be generally clean and are kept with other food grade materials, allowing them to be sold and reused in the manufacturing of beverage containers.

Containers put out curbside are often mixed with other products, soiled and typically sold at lesser value. Yet, because haulers are allowed to claim their redemption credit, they profit substantially.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

Mary Callahan

Environment and Climate Change, The Press Democrat

I am in awe of the breathtaking nature here in Sonoma County and am so grateful to live in this spectacular region we call home. I am amazed, too, by the expertise in our community and by the commitment to protecting the land, its waterways, its wildlife and its residents. My goal is to improve understanding of the issues, to find hope and to help all of us navigate the future of our environment. 

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