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Compromise Reached on Bottle Deposit Bill : Legislative Negotiators Expected to Approve Plan That Requires Refunds to Consumers

August 22, 1986|STEPHANIE O'NEILL | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — A landmark anti-litter bill that would end a bitterly contested, two-decade fight over refundable deposits on beer and soft-drink containers was fashioned Thursday by legislative negotiators who expect to approve it next week.

The delicate compromise, reached after months of tedious negotiations, marked the first agreement of its kind between the politically powerful California beverage industry and environmentalists.

Participants agreed that some "small" issues remained unresolved but expressed confidence that they would be overcome and the bill would soon reach Gov. George Deukmejian. He was reported by his office to be "generally in favor of the concept" but had not seen the compromise.

'Going to Work'

"We think after a long, 20-year battle we have arrived at a compromise finally that's going to work. We fully expect it's going to pass both sides of the Legislature and be signed into law by the governor," declared Lee Wiegandt, executive director of Californians Against Waste, the beverage-industry coalition representing brewers, soft-drink bottlers, packaging manufacturers, retailers and recyclers.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday August 23, 1986 Home Edition Part 1 Page 2 Column 1 Metro Desk 1 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
The Times, in its Friday editions, incorrectly identified Lee Wiegandt as executive director of Californians Against Waste. He is the executive director of Californians for Voluntary Recycling.

Gerald Meral, director of the environmentalist Planning and Conservation League that has long favored recycling legislation, called the plan a feasible compromise, adding, "We've tinkered with this every way we can think of to make this program work. . . .

"We expect it to work," he said.

The complex legislation, by Assemblyman Burt Margolin (D-Los Angeles), would break from traditional "bottle bills" of the past that simply would have required consumers to pay a refundable 5-cent deposit on all beer and soft-drink containers.

Instead, the Margolin bill would require beverage distributors to pay a penny-per-container deposit into a statewide redemption fund. The fee would be passed on to consumers as part of the product's price.

Starting Oct. 1, 1987, a 1-cent refund would be paid to those who returned aluminum, plastic or glass containers to neighborhood recycling centers. If the return rate for a particular type of container dropped below 65%, the redemption value of that container would increase to 2 cents in 1989 as an inducement to recycle. If the return rate still went unmet by 1992, the refund would rise to 3 cents.

The refund would be in addition to the scrap value of each container. Commercial recyclers currently pay approximately 1 cent per aluminum container and about half a cent per glass container.

Margolin, a strong supporter of the nickel-per-container refundable deposit law in effect in nine other states, turned down on Thursday a last-minute suggestion by Assemblyman Byron D. Sher (D-Palo Alto) to increase the ultimate redemption rate to 4 cents by 1992.

"As much as I might want to work with you to achieve such an amendment, it would have the effect of blowing apart this delicate balance," Margolin told Sher.

Members of the two-house conference committee that worked out the compromise draft form of the bill expressed confidence that the measure would be approved on Monday and sent to both the Assembly and Senate for a final floor vote.

The compromise calls for the state Department of Conservation to manage the program. The department's first task would be to designate "convenience zones" statewide in which at least one recycling center would be located within a half-mile radius of every large supermarket.

Operating Hours

The centers would be required to operate 30 hours a week and could be anything from reverse vending machines or a fixed recycling stand to a parking lot service offered by service or charitable organizations.

If two or more supermarkets occupied a convenience zone, they could share a recycling center. The bill would require that they post a sign stating the location of the center, even if it was at a competitor's address.

"That to me is a powerful incentive for both (supermarkets) to have a center," said Margolin, who predicted that the number of recycling centers, currently about 1,000 statewide, would more than double to "at least 2,000 to 3,000" sites.

In areas in which no recycling centers are established by July 31, 1987, the Department of Conservation would have the discretion to encourage recycling through various financial incentives, including slightly increased redemption payments to consumers. If by Dec. 31, 1987, a recycling center still was not established, retailers must either collect the containers themselves or pay a $100 daily fine into a state redemption fund.

"I don't think anyone will pay $100 a day, so what we'll see are those retailers, for a time, will have to take back (beverage containers)," Margolin said.

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