Recycle, reduce, reuse—then what?

Californians recycle more than ever. But who gets the leftover cash?

Nearly $50 million in unclaimed CRV fees went to beverage manufacturers last year as recycling education and outreach funding was cut dramatically.

Nearly $50 million in unclaimed CRV fees went to beverage manufacturers last year as recycling education and outreach funding was cut dramatically.

Californians recycled 17.2 billion beverage containers last year. But who gets the money when recycling-fee dollars go unclaimed?

In the 2009-10 fiscal year, nearly $100 million in California Redemption Value fees that went nonreimbursed were given back to the beverage industry and supermarket recycling centers. During this same year, the state cut funding for recycling education and outreach, from $5 million to $250,000.

And this past March, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed an emergency measure that suspended for two years a $20 million program to develop and expand recycling markets throughout the state.

Overall, Californians are spending less as beverage consumers but recycling more of their empty bottles and cans, a fact that has put a strain on the California Beverage Container Recycling Fund. “California historically is out in front on these types of issues,” said Mark Oldfield, communications manager at CalRecycle, the state department that administers the CBCRF. “[But] people are buying less in this economy, so sales of beverages covered by the California Refund Value have gone down.”

But he notes that residents are recycling more to recoup their CRV fees; the recycling rate went up to 82 percent in 2009, up 67 percent in 2007 and 74 percent in 2008.

This means, according to Oldfield, that there is less money going into the CBCRF program at the front end, due to fewer beverage sales. From 2006 to 2009, sales were nearly 22 billion for CRV-eligible beverages in aluminum, glass and plastic products. That number decreased to 21 billion in sales in 2009, the first decrease in many years, Oldfield said.

Meanwhile, more money is going out due to increased recycling. In 2007, 14.7 billion containers were cycled. This went up to 16.2 billion in 2008, and up another billion over this past year.

The No. 1 recycled container is aluminum, with 9.2 billion in sales in 2009. Clear plastic, typically used for water and soda bottles, is second in sales at 8.2 billion last year, followed by glass at 3.1 billion.

As for unclaimed reimbursements? “[They’re] earmarked in legislation for various things related to promoting and supporting the state’s beverage-container recycling program,” said Oldfield. Unclaimed CRV fees also are supposed to be used to fund recycling nonprofits.

But last year, $45.6 million in CRV fee money was refunded to beverage manufacturers to offset processing costs.

Additionally, $47.6 million was reimbursed to CalRecycle for operating the CBCRF, $26.3 million went to supermarket Convenience Zone recycling centers, $8.3 million to curbside recycling programs, $5.8 million to improve the quality of recyclable glass from manufacturers and $5.5 million to encourage recycling centers to collect a higher volume of materials.

Also, city and counties received $5.5 million (down from $10.5 million) to promote recycling locally, $10.7 million went to community conservation corps jobs programs for at-risk youth and $4.5 million to state operations.

Although the education and advertising allotment has been cut, a recycling-starter-kit program that provides a free bin to businesses, schools and other nonresidential venues is available at

And despite the uncertainty of where CRV fees end up, one thing is for sure: You can count on proactive Californians to recycle, reduce and reuse.