Cents for the bottle, cents for the can

Those delivering glass and plastic to recycling centers just got a 25-percent raise

Linda Falls takes advantage of a recent hike in refunds for recyclables.

Linda Falls takes advantage of a recent hike in refunds for recyclables.

SN&R Photo By Larry Dalton

Find your nearest CRV recycle center by typing in your ZIP code at www.bottlesandcans.com/where.php.

Sacramento resident Tom Theodora has been collecting cans and bottles and bringing them into the nearest recycling center in his shopping cart for years. Recently, he’s been bringing in a little less but making a bit more money.

As of January 1, the refund for recycled cans and bottles rose from four to five cents for every container under 24 oz and from eight to 10 cents for everything larger. These few pennies may not mean much to people buying beers and sodas in the stores, but it means a 25-percent income boost for those like Theodora who gather up cans and bottles in bags, cars or shopping carts and recycle them.

“I’m homeless, so mostly I spend it on my day-to-day needs,” he said.

Fred’s California Recycling Center in Sacramento sees about 40 shopping carts every day, with most of their customers refilling their carts and returning three or four times.

For many, gathering up cans and bottles was “better than begging,” explained Sidney, an Albany resident who started recycling after seeing cans and bottles pile up in people’s recycling bins and trash. To him, it seemed almost like free money.

“The basket pushers [have been] making more money because they’re not paying the CRV [California Redemption Value] to start out with,” said Eric, a man who would not give his last name but said he’d worked at Fred’s California Recycling Center for 25 years. He claimed to know every one of his customers.

Currently, every time people purchase a can or bottle in the store they pay an extra four to eight cents. When they recycle that container they get the refund back—unless they recycle it curbside. AB 3056 increased the redemption value, but didn’t increase the cost to the consumer. The state Department of Conservation hoped the higher return would inspire more people to recycle. If the overall recycling rate doesn’t reach 75 percent by July 1, 2007, then the consumer’s cost at the store will be raised to pay for the higher refund.

Russell Switzer, at the Auburn Community Recycling Center, said that the center saw an increase in recycling toward the beginning of the year but is now experiencing a lull as people save up recyclable materials in their homes. If more people recycle their own bottles and cans, it could mean less money for the homeless people who collect them from public trash cans and from curbside recycling bins.

On a recent weekday, the Berkeley Recycling Center was a hotbed of activity, offering $1.65 per pound of aluminum cans while most other centers (including those around Sacramento) offer only $1.55 per pound. The law stipulates rates per can, but recycling centers are allowed flexibility when converting those prices to pounds. A full shopping cart can earn around $15, which is paid by check. Berkeley recyclers without bank accounts are directed to the nearby Chevron Liquors, where the store requires a purchase worth 10 percent of the check to cash it.

Bill Crawford, who was unloading his truck at the Berkeley Recycling Center recently, viewed the increase in refunds as a simple matter of inflation, a raise to catch up with the price of everything else. He doesn’t think his supply will dry up since students at the university throw out recycling in such large quantities.

In an attempt to ward off similar waste, UC Davis’ R4 Recycling Program has managed to divert over 50 percent of the waste from the university landfill to recycling since 2000. Additionally, UC Davis is one of 200 schools nationwide participating right now in RecycleMania, a competition to hold the highest recycling rate. The contest, which began in January, runs until April 7.

At Fred’s California Recycling Center, Eric said the extra money the homeless earned from the increased refund might be “a little more left over, going to something that might have been third down on the list.”

“Bills and food,” Sidney said. “I love to eat.”