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

September 13, 2017

Sacramento –  Today the California State Assembly passed Senate Bill 458, a bill by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) to fix state recycling laws that are negatively impacting small grocery stores across California. The bill must go back to the Senate for a concurrence vote to accept amendments made in the Assembly before it moves to the Governor’s desk. The Senate previously passed SB 458 in July.

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 programs will qualify as full recycling centers under California law, thus relieving surrounding small grocery stores of the onerous obligation of having to accept recycling for redemption.

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.

“California has long been a leader in pushing aggressive recycling goals,” said Senator Wiener. “However, our state recycling law is over thirty years old, and what worked in the 1980s doesn’t necessarily work today. Various cities, including San Francisco, have seen mass closures of recycling centers - creating major problems for small grocery stores - and we need more flexibility to meet our ambitious recycling and waste reduction goals. SB 458 will allow cities to implement innovative mobile recycling programs that both improve collection efforts and protect our local businesses from being unfairly penalized.” 

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, as the number of recycling centers has fallen from 35 in 1990 to just seven today. While larger supermarket chains can simply pay the fine, smaller grocery stores cannot and thus are forced to accept recycling redemption, which can be highly disruptive to running a small store.

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.