SACRAMENTO — Nearly every beverage can and bottle sold in California is now worth a penny.
Consumers won't be able to collect the refund until Oct. 1, but from now on distributors of beer and carbonated soft drinks must pay the state a cent for every container they sell.
And distributors must make sure their containers bear the label "CA redemption value." Only cans and bottles with the label will be eligible for refunds.
That label symbolizes the end of a 20-year battle that pitted environmentalists against retailers and the beverage industry over proposed bottle bills.
The resulting legislation, passed by the state Legislature last year and to be phased in this fall, is a compromise measure that is unique in the nation.
California is the 10th state to pass a bottle bill, but unlike traditional Oregon-style laws, California's bill will not require retailers who sell beverages to take back the empties.
But under the California Beverage Container Recycling and Litter Reduction Act, most large supermarkets must make sure there's a state-certified recycling center within half a mile of their businesses.
The deadline for those centers to be established is Oct. 1, but $100-a-day fines for failing to comply won't be levied against stores until Jan. 1.
Most grocery chains are contracting with large recycling firms to provide as many as 2,700 recycling centers around the state. Those centers will pay consumers scrap value in addition to the penny refund when they return empty beverage containers. Some stores may install "reverse vending machines," which will accept cans and bottles in exchange for refunds.
California's recycling program is also unique in that it charges makers of plastic, glass and metal containers processing fees if the scrap value of the materials falls below the recycling cost.
Proponents predict that this aspect of the bill will raise prices for scrap materials and may encourage bottle makers to develop plastic that is more easily recycled.
Critics of the bill, including the California Public Interest Research Group, believe the penny-a-container refund will be insufficient to make many Californians recycle.
The legislation will raise the redemption value to 2 cents on Dec. 31, 1989, and to 3 cents on Dec. 31, 1992, if the recycling level of a particular material fails to reach 65%.