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Cleaning Up on a Penny Bounty

October 01, 1987

The state's new bottle law takes effect today. Caring consumers, thrifty shoppers and enterprising children can redeem beer and soft-drink containers for at least a penny refund per bottle or can at convenient recycling centers--including new depots set up at 500 supermarkets. Returning the empties may take a few extra minutes, but it is well worth the effort.

Californians are a thirsty group. We drink roughly 12 billion beers and sodas a year. Properly disposed of, the cans and bottles clog landfills that aren't getting any bigger. Tossed carelessly away, the containers clutter our beaches, parks and roads.

The new law applies to carbonated beverages like beer, soda, sparkling water and fizzy juices. Hard liquor, wine and wine coolers are not covered. Consumers automatically collect a penny per container and, at some larger centers, the scrap value of the can or bottle. Recycling just got more profitable.

The law also requires large supermarkets to identify a recycling center within a half-mile of the store. At least 2,000 stores are expected to phase in reverse vending machines or collection points within the next three months to comply and to keep customers from taking their business to competitors.

If the 65% mark is not met within 15 months, the law automatically doubles the refund to 2 cents in 1989 and raises it to 3 cents in 1992. The higher the incentive, the better the law will work. A nickel, the standard refund in the nine states with bottle laws, has prompted dramatic return rates of 80% to 90%. California needs a similar success.

Aluminum cans and glass bottles are easily recycled. Plastic bottles, though less profitable to recycle, can be reused to make fiberfill for sleeping bags or remolded by injection into light switches and auto parts. Plastic should be recycled because is doesn't decompose. That stuff just doesn't go away. The two-liter bottles simply float around forever like bloated old tires when disposed in landfills.

If the new law works, and it should, Californians will enjoy cleaner beaches, parks and roads while worrying less about energy dependence and choked landfills. If the penny refund is not a strong enough incentive, the bounty should grow to a nickel and on every beverage container.

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