Is California's heralded recycling program broken?

An industrial conveyor belt rumbles, propelling a production line jampacked with more than enough recycling-bound plastic bottles to make an environmentalist smile.

Clumps of polyethylene terephthalate pulse toward a compressor where it will get power-packed into bales, each weighing nearly 700 pounds. All are destined to be transformed into such things as clothing, carpet or more bottles.

Californians purchased 23 billion bottles and cans last year; 18.4 billion were returned into the recycling circle of life, one of the highest rates in the country. Recycling processors gathered, mashed, mulched and re-formed billions of pounds of plastic, aluminium and glass that would have otherwise clogged landfills or imperiled sea creatures in the Pacific.

At that volume, California’s three-decade-old consumer-recycling program should be considered a smashing success. But the CalRecycle system is in trouble and most agree it needs to be, well, recycled.

Here’s why:

• The bottle program operates with a structural deficit that some say was created by its own success. As more people and businesses cashed in containers, the cost of running the program outpaced the amount consumers and the beverage industry paid into it.

• Out-of-state recyclers have taken advantage of California’s redemption fees, bringing in truckloads of bottles and cans for cash — but not paying into the process. Over the past two years, dozens of container trucks headed for recycling…

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California News
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