Going green puts recyclers in the red

It isn’t easy being green these days, especially if you’re a California recycler.  Despite California’s reputation as a global environmental leader, the state has been  dismantling its landmark neighborhood recycling program in recent years, jeopardizing one of California’s most successful and popular environmental achievements.

As a small independent recycler in San Diego, I experience this destruction first hand every day, watching the elimination of green jobs at a time when California’s political leaders claim to be promoting a green economy. I operate four neighborhood recycling centers that play an essential role in California’s recycling program.  The centers are located on supermarket parking lots, providing consumers convenient locations to recycle their beverage containers and redeem their deposits.  Whether it is $2 or $20, Californians need that deposit money now more than ever. I help hundreds of customers everyday who rely on deposit money for basic essentials.  Customers like the local elementary school teacher, who collects recyclables to help pay for her gas and classroom supplies.  Customers like local group home residents, who use the money to help people with disabilities supplement basic living expenses.

But Californians now have a tougher time finding convenient centers  after more than 100 facilities were  forced to close in recent months. The recycling centers are owed more than $20 million by the State of California and can no longer afford to operate. State budget raids are to blame.  The State of California has been raiding the Beverage Container Recycling Fund to pay for unrelated programs, a budget maneuver that left the formerly self-sustaining deposit fund unable to pay handling fees to private recyclers, like myself.

I operate my business on a shoestring budget, out of my modest home. If you were to visit my cramped office, you would see stacks of unpaid invoices totaling more than $50,000 – money owed to my company by the State of California Beverage Container Recycling Fund.  I’m not sure how much longer I can hang on.  I maxed out my home equity line, my credit cards hit their limits and my savings account is drained.  I scramble each week to pay salaries for  nine dedicated workers, desperately hoping to keep them employed. But without an immediate legislative fix, I will soon be forced to follow more than 100 other recycling centers and close my doors for good, laying off green collar workers while making it more difficult for consumers to redeem their much needed deposits.

I don’t want to close.  Though my business does not provide much of an income, it does offer a valuable and popular public service for which I am proud to provide. I witness the positive benefits to consumers and the environment every day.  Californians purchase more than 20 billion recyclable containers every year and nearly one–third of those are recycled through centers like mine. These centers have a successful track-record of reducing litter, increasing recycling rates and helping the environment.

The current situation defies common sense, and creates a long list of ironies.  By causing neighborhood recycling centers to close, the state is forcing hard-working Californians to drive long-distances to redeem their deposits, requiring cash-strapped consumers to spend more on gas while their cars generate unnecessary emissions. The recycling center closures are also eliminating green jobs.  More than 200 recycling jobs have been eliminated so far, while politicians claim to be focused on stimulating a green-based economy.

Still, I remain hopeful there will be a legislative fix.  The State Legislature approved and the governor signed a short-term solution in AB 8x 7, to provide recyclers with a partial repayment of  their overdue handling fees.  Recycling businesses like mine are counting on that bill’s passage to stay afloat another six-months.  But the program still needs a long-term fix approved this legislative session.

At a time when voter cynicism is high and mistrust of government rampant, the State of California needs to keep its promise to California voters and provide consumers with a convenient method for redeeming their state mandated CRV deposits.  Without a convenient way to collect their CRV, that “deposit” then becomes a de facto tax, further eroding public trust in elected leaders.

Californians want to do their part to help the environment, but being green shouldn’t be such a struggle, and it certainly shouldn’t force California consumers and recyclers to go in the red.

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