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Recycling Centers
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 year.

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?

Comments in order of when they were received | (reverse order)

 COMMENT 368739 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-29 04:30 PM

California redemption value is another failed nanny state program filled with the unintended consequences you document. The people who pay this "tax" are rarely the ones who redeem the value...it's the usual wealth transfer hidden in the guise of environmental regulation.


 COMMENT 368767 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-29 05:13 PM

This scheme was devised by the bottling industry to make people annoyed by bottle deposits, and hence vote them out. The old fashioned deposit, redeemed at the point of purchase worked great for years and still works great in other places. Bottles wash and refill very nicely; all our old equipment is still in use in Mexico.


 COMMENT 368768P agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-29 05:15 PM

Some of us recycle because it's the right thing to do, not to make money.


 COMMENT 368772 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-29 05:18 PM

@768P it isn't a function of making money, it's a function of having your deposit returned. The commentary illustrates the fraud involved, as is with any other state-sponsered program. Thanks for your self-righteous input though. I think I hear your Prius calling you.


 COMMENT 368777 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-29 05:25 PM

Even if you are paid 100% of your 'deposit' back when you recycle, the state still wins because you were TAXED on the 'recycle fee' when you purchased the product.


 COMMENT 368786 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-29 05:49 PM

If you put all the cans and bottles in together, you will not get your full deposit gross amount back. But if you separate each one out through the machines, you will get the exact redemption value back.

777, how are we taxed on the recycle fee?


 COMMENT 368791P agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-29 05:58 PM

Hey, wasn't that a "Seinfeld" episode?? Ya, Kramer borrowed the Postal Vehicle to transport recycling to a different city to get more money for the stuff.


 COMMENT 368798P agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-29 06:19 PM

In Isla Vista, scavengers blatantly raid recycling cans before MarBorg collects them.


 BECKY agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-29 06:20 PM

My Dad did this same experiment, and said he got a lot more money from the Albertson's on Calle Real (which counts each item, slowly) than from the recycling center by the airport (which weighs and guesses). He was retired and didn't count his time though. I tried both. Yep. I'm being un-reimbursed by the recycling center, but my time is worth the ~20% difference. I just accept that some folks cheat, and the recycling center paying low means the honest folks pay for the cheaters (as usual).


 COMMENT 368810 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-29 07:07 PM

<3 seinfeld


 COMMENT 368821 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-29 07:38 PM

I prefer the MarBorg recycling center on Nopalitos (I think that's the street). I've been to every recycling reimbursement joint between Carp and Goleta. The MarBorg facility is the most fair.


 COMMENT 368877P agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-30 04:45 AM

I love Eugenio and Marvin at the Marborg facility on Nopalitos. Hard working guys and they know what they're doing, since they've been there for at least 15 years.

If your recyclables are being weighed, you have to figure you're going to be shorted just a bit, no matter what. Oh well.

And to 798P: The Marborg recycling bins are being robbed all over SB, not just I.V. It has become "big business" for lots of so-called "homeless." (I'd like to see some of the bank accounts.)

One guy has done so well, he has a huge truck and gleans every bit of aluminum and plastic CRV (CA redemption value) he can, all along the beaches. He just tosses it all into the back of his truck and sorts it later, I guess.

There are "pickers" who go around, in the wee hours of the morning, through any neighborhood where cans are set out at the curb. Some of these people will walk right up a long driveway and start digging in the recyclables bins.

Marborg can't do a thing about it. It wouldn't be cost effective to police these bins, nor feasible, really. I have called the police when I see the pickers in my upper Eastside neighborhood. They usually come by bicycle and load up their huge plastic bags. It's petty thievery, but thievery nonetheless.

The good news is: a lot of these pickers also make a point to drag recyclables out of the City trash cans---so at least they are helping to keep recyclables out of the landfill.

Too bad everyone doesn't have the sense to recycle. Every little bit helps.


 COMMENT 368883 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-30 06:24 AM

When the plastic bottles were re-engineered to save plastic (and thus weight), but the CRV (CA Redemption Value) amount didn’t change, that only confirmed what I long suspected – there is no correlation between the CRV and what the recycler pays back (The CA Refundable Value). I don’t know a single recycler that takes the time to itemize by container size; they all weigh. And on many occasions I can’t help but notice the tare weight is over-stated on the often un-certified scales. Who is hurt most? I doubt the average Edhat reader – but the “jawas” (often immigrants, legal or not) who are afraid to challenge the scale accuracies or recycler policies.

As others have said, a misguided government policy that is ripe for fraud.


 COMMENT 368900 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-30 07:33 AM

I heard a story years ago that plastic can't be recycled for the same use, but has to be used for something that requires less strength per lb. So bottles can't be reused for new bottles, but can be used to make park benches or plastic doll houses. Because of this the market for recycled plastic bottles is not good, and at some point they were shredding them and sending them to Thailand landfills.

Aluminum cans can be used to make new cans so recycling is a good thing for them.

Similar issue with the new lithium batteries being used in our computers and Priuses- the materials in them are very hard to recycle so it is not clear that the market for the recycled batteries will be as good for the old lead type that were very easy to recycle as long as you didn't mind working with lead.


 COMMENT 368912 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-30 07:50 AM

368900 - Yes, lithium batteries are harder to recycle than lead due to there mechanical and chemical complexity and the fact that the battery usuallly has some amount of unstable lithium inside that can burst into flame in contact with moisture. Plus Lithium recovered from them is not highly valuable without expensive refining.

Modern lead acid batteries are also a bit harder to recycle than old ones, but lead is expensive and dead lead batteries have significant value (always have thankfully, or landfills would be pepperred with them). Really old ones could be opened and repaired even by a home mechanic rather than recycled, but that process was messy and dangerous and I am glad to have not done it for decades now.


 COMMENT 368916P agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-30 08:00 AM

By the way, has anybody been to the main recycling area? I can't imagine how awful it must be and I wonder what the workers are paid. I don't know how all the little various stuff we throw together into the recycling bins is sorted without lots of constant cuts and bruises. Does anybody know about this scene? I'm sure children arent taken there on a primary school field trip....


 COMMENT 368926P agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-30 08:29 AM

Always amusing to see the quick- reaction of the Marborg cultists if a topic is even remotely vulnerable to their promotion


 COMMENT 368936 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-30 08:41 AM

All those immigrants came here for a better life foraging in our trash in the predawn hours to yield about a $4.00 per hour job on a good day.


 COMMENT 368957 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-30 09:47 AM

If it weren't for this "misguided government program," there are a great many of us who would have exactly no incentive to recycle anything, and it would have to be picked up off the beaches and the streets by SOME other government agency. The alternative is to drown in our own trash. There is no more "away" to throw it to, we have become too "successful" as a species.


 COMMENT 368973 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-30 10:18 AM

OP.... let me see if I get this straight. The recycling program is intended to lessen the tonnage sent to the landfill and also reuse materials that would otherwise fill those same landfills. And you're complaining it costs you 3.6% from your refund or about about 3.5¢ per 10 bottles (based on a 10¢ redemption value)?

Someone has to store the collected containers, man the collection points and package to ship them off. Someone has to count your smelly containers and work with you to get your money back.... who should pay for that labor? Someone has to pay for the fuel it costs to ship them and clean them. And you're complaining it costs you 0.36¢ per bottle to do so? Seriously?


 COMMENT 369018 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-30 11:45 AM

One thing that no one has mentioned is that the plastic bottles have been recently altered to use +/- 30% less plastic. The weight of the bottles is lighter, yet the CRV is unchanged, therefore the redemption value for weighed returned plastic containers has diminished substantially. I really do not feel bad about less fortunate people are finding a way to survive. Marlborg is not suffering, and besides, they have won the monopoly in SB.


 COMMENT 369022 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-30 11:59 AM

Oh the humanity! Neuman!!!!!


 COMMENT 369041 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-30 12:38 PM

@973, I think the article's point was that this State program was losing up to $200 million per year through fraud, and that on a personal level, a program that is called a "deposit" program is not even giving back the deposits! Probably no one is going to argue that programs that divert trash from landfills are bad, but if the State has them, they should run them efficiently. If they are not going to return our deposits, they should call it a new tax and let us vote on whether we want to pay it.

If you think giving a $200 million gift of our money to fraudsters is okay, then I can see why you are criticizing the poster about the deposits.


 COMMENT 369052 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-30 01:06 PM

How much did Marborg make on the recycling?


 CORKY agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-30 01:14 PM

I'm always happy to get a few bucks when I go to the recycling center in Goleta and feel I'm helping the environment at the same time,.


 COMMENT 369069 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-30 01:46 PM

368786 - If the beverage is taxable (soda, wine, beer), then so is the CRV you pay for the container. Here in SB, you are actually paying $0.054 CRV per can of soda or bottle of beer. Works out to a dime extra per case.

Water is not taxable, so there is no tax on the CRV you pay on bottled water.


 COMMENT 369101 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-30 03:02 PM

When the program first started there was not much fanfare and the state reaped huge windfall profits from people not returing cans and bottles. The bottlers pay the fee directly to the state and the state hopes no one will recycle so the state can pocket the fee. But like they say no good deed goes unpunished. Not only is there a very high recyle/return rate now because of awarness and the bad economy, but individuals from Arizona are collecting cans and bottles with the CA redemption stamped on them and are bringing them by the truckload into Ca. And here is the kicker, CA never recieves the fee since the cans and bottles are sold in AZ where there is no redemption program. So basically AZ is pretty much causing the problem.


 COMMENT 369311 agree helpful negative off topic

2013-01-31 07:37 AM

Cans are coming in from Nevada too, the LA Times story said. Brown recently signed a law that anyone bringing in more than a small amount of cans or bottles has to fill out a form stating where they got them and where they are taking them. I guess if someone coming in the state has a big load of recyclables then they will be able to catch them now or at least bust the centers that are accepting the out of state items.


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