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updated: Jan 29, 2013, 4:00 PM
By Mark Bandurraga
In October 2012, the LA Times ran a story on fraud and abuse in the recycling program (Rampant
Recycling Fraud is Draining California Cash by Jessica Garrison, 10/7/2012). The story showed that the
recycling rates for cans and plastic bottle were near or exceeded 100% due to people bringing in cans
and bottles from other states and redeeming them. Recyclers in the state were also defrauding the
program by claiming multiple redemptions for the same container. Government officials estimated the
fraud to be about $40 million a year, while others estimated that the fraud could be as high as $200
million. The fraud has led to the recycling fund paying out more than $100 million than it took in last
After reading this story, I decided to do my own investigation into the local recycling centers because
I've always felt that the amount that I received from the recyclers was less than I was paying in deposits.
I saved up 420 aluminum cans (deposit of $0.05 per can) and 87 plastic bottles ($0.10 per bottle). I
took them to the Albertsons by Costco and told the guy I had counted up the number of bottles and
cans to compare to what he reimbursed me to make sure he would be as accurate as possible. The
recycling centers pay for 32 cans per pound but subtract off 5% if they feel that the cans contain water
or sand. In this case the guy told me that it sounded like there was sand in the cans and subtracted off
the 5%. I was then paid for 405 cans which means that I was underpaid for the cans by about 3.6%.
As for the plastic bottles, the center did not weigh each bottle size separately but lumped them together
and paid me for 68 bottles. This meant that I was underpaid by more than 20% for the bottles.
The results confirmed my suspicions about not being reimbursed correctly. The recycling guy said that
if I had under 50 containers total, he would count them out instead of weighing. He also said I could go
to the Albertsons on Calle Real and use the machine there to count the containers. I watched someone
do that once, and it took forever for the machine to read the containers that were inserted. It also
means that the cans can't be crushed because the machine has to be able to scan the code on the
container in order to accept it.
I don't think that the center is making money off of the under-reimbursement but it does mean that the
recycling fund should have more than enough money if not all of the deposits are being returned to the
customers. I wonder if this is a typical performance for a large expensive program, or if other State
programs are running more efficiently?
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