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ENVIRONMENT WATCH : Recycling Dollars

June 16, 1991

When California's bottle law first took effect four years ago, there was no rush to return beer and soda containers to refund centers. Recycling an empty container paid only a penny, too small an incentive for most consumers.

The reward grew last year to a nickel for two bottles or cans. That increase has paid off with a dramatic boost in recycling, and a state program that is finally working.

Californians are recycling 68% of all beverage containers, according to a state report. That effort is taking a load off swollen landfills and adding a few dollars to the family budget.

Recycling has doubled since the law took effect. More than three-fourths of aluminum cans are returned. At least half of all empty bottles are turned in, and nearly a third of plastic containers are deposited through the growing number of recycling centers and curbside programs.

Recycling could become even easier, according to the report, prepared by Ernst and Young, if the state establishes more refund centers, requires supermarket-based centers to stay open at least six hours on weekends and allows recycling firms to give refunds at small businesses and homes. The report also recommends adding wine and bottled-water containers to the state program.

Thirsty Californians drink an average of 12 billion sodas and beers every year. The empties tended to end up in trash cans or littering beaches, parks or roads.

That was before the state worked out most of the problems in the bottle law to make recycling easier--and more profitable.

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