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Recycling Companies Foresee a Revival, Thanks to Helpful New State Legislation


Shoppers frustrated by the closing of hundreds of beverage-container recycling centers around the state will probably see many reopening in the next few months, according to major recycling firms.

The collection companies had long charged that state recycling laws made many of their centers money-losers. Now several bills supported by the collectors to improve recycling economics--particularly for such materials as glass--have been signed into law.

One of the state's biggest collection site operators, 20/20 Recycle Centers, closed more than 200 centers in California this summer. It said the centers had been losing money since 1987.

Last month, Reynolds Aluminum Recycling Co., another major collector, refused to accept glass or plastic containers at three of its 115 California sites. Reynolds said it would lose $1 million in 1990 under the current program.

Envipco California Inc., operator of about 600 reverse vending machines around the state, had shut down 40 sites. The fourth major collector is Mobil Recycling Corp., with 136 locations.

California has been "easily one of the most contentious scenes in the country in the state of recycling," said Jerry Powell, editor of Portland, Ore.-based Resource Recycling magazine.

The problem in California has been that markets for recycled material have been strong for aluminum, used in about 70% of beverage containers, but soft for glass and plastic, used in about 25% and 5%, respectively.

Many consumers were particularly upset this spring to learn that 7,000 tons of glass turned in last year for recycling had been dumped in landfills because of a glut of recycled glass.

Collection companies have charged that financial incentives in the original bill that should have made glass and plastic profitable haven't operated as hoped. They also objected to provisions mandating that centers be sited near major supermarkets around the state, whether or not the sites proved efficient and profitable.

One of the new bills, AB 1490 sponsored by Assemblyman Byron Sher (D-Palo Alto), gives recyclers financial incentives to keep centers open. The other, AB 2622 from Assemblywoman Delaine Eastin (D-Union City), requires manufacturers to use more recycled glass, expanding that market.

The new laws were also praised by environmentalists. "We feel we've really won the battle this year on the glass crisis," said Sandra E. Jerabek, executive director of Sacramento-based Californians Against Waste, which lobbied for the bills.

"They will assist to some extent for plastic, which will remain a very difficult material to recycle," Jerabek added.

A. Lee Johnson, vice president for governmental affairs for 20/20 Recycle, said he anticipated that "about 80% of the redemption centers we closed will become economically viable with the changes in law."

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