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Penny Power

August 24, 1986

For 20 years California's environmentalists fought for bottle bills to reduce litter. For 20 years they lost to the powerful beverage industry. What they had in mind was a law similar to those in nine states that require a refundable nickel deposit. What they may get is pennies. But that's better than nothing. It's a start.

Under a compromise between environmentalists and the industry, if the penny deposit doesn't lead people to return at least 65% of the beer and soft-drink containers sold each year, it will rise to 2 cents in 1989 and to 3 cents in 1992. That is an improvement in AB 2020, sponsored by Assemblyman Burt Margolin (D-Los Angeles).

If AB 2020 becomes law, as it should, beverage distributors will pay a penny per container starting in October, 1987. That penny will be refunded at recycling centers. On top of that, consumers will collect the scrap value--currently about a penny for an aluminum can or a half-penny for a plastic or glass bottle.

Empties could not automatically be returned to stores, as they can in other states, but the new law would require large supermarkets to post addresses of recycling centers located within a half-mile. If no such center exists, supermarkets would set up their own recycling depots or pay a daily $100 fine.

Penny power may be stronger than we think. There may be plenty of thrifty adults and enterprising children who will collect empty cans and bottles for small change. And California will see cleaner beaches, parks and roads.

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