Senate Passes Senator Wiener’s Bill to Fix California’s Broken Recycling Laws

July 13, 2017

Sacramento –  Today the State Senate passed a bill by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) to fix state recycling laws that are negatively impacting small businesses across California. SB 458 authorizes CalRecycle to create five mobile recycling pilot programs throughout the state, which will allow cities like San Francisco to pursue a mobile recycling redemption program. Under SB 458, these mobile recycling centers will qualify as full recycling centers under California law, which will relieve surrounding small businesses of the onerous obligation of having to accept recycling for redemption.

SB 458 was passed by a vote of 39-0. It will now go to the Assembly for consideration. SB 458 is an urgency measure, which means it requires a 2/3 vote by the legislature and will go into effect immediately upon being signed by the Governor.

“Cities in our state have evolved over the decades since the Bottle Bill was passed, and we need to be more flexible in finding solutions to maximize our recycling efforts,” said Senator Wiener. “Many communities have seen closures of recycling centers for a wide range of reasons, which requires more flexible solutions for meeting our statewide recycling goals. Mobile recycling will allow us to continue to promote smart and effective recycling policies, while relieving a burden on our business owners, particularly our small mom-and-pop corner stores that don’t have the capacity or resources to meet the one-size-fits-all obligations of state law.”

Under the 1986 California Beverage Container Recycling and Litter Reduction Act (also known as the Bottle Bill), any beverage dealer, including supermarkets and corner stores, not within one half-mile of a recycling center must redeem empty bottles and cans in-store or pay a $100-per-day in-lieu fee (nearly $40,000 a year). In San Francisco, these half-mile “convenience zones” surrounding recycling centers have all but disappeared, where the number of recycling centers has fallen from 35 in 1990 to just seven today.

San Francisco has the lowest recycling zone coverage (7%) of any city in the state. This leaves 579 beverage dealers in San Francisco outside of any “convenience zone” established under the bottle bill, and therefore subject to the requirement to either redeem containers or pay a daily fine. The large majority of these 579 stores are smaller stores. Large supermarkets simply pay the fee and thus are relieved of their obligation to redeem recyclables. Small grocery stores, which are unable to pay this fee, are thus subjected to the crushing burden of having to accept any and all recyclables members of the public bring to them

To address this problem, San Francisco’s Department of the Environment has attempted to create a mobile recycling program. However, such a program does not fulfill the recycling obligations of local businesses under current state law. Senator Wiener introduced SB 458 initially as a pilot program for San Francisco to allow for a mobile recycling program to satisfy these obligations. With amendments taken in   month, SB 458 has now been expanded to allow CalRecycle to authorize five pilot programs throughout the state.

Specifically, SB 458 will create a pilot program where up to five local jurisdictions can apply for alternative programs to satisfy the “convenience zone” requirement of the Bottle Bill.  These pilot programs will allow cities to create a mobile recycling program that, if it meets certain criteria, will relieve businesses of the collection obligations and financial penalties put on them for existing outside of a convenience zone. The mobile recycling programs can include unmanned reverse vending machines or temporary locations that are open one or two days per week for at least six hours per day at each location.