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Bottle Refunds, and More

June 02, 2003

Anyone who plunks down a buck for a drink that otherwise comes free from a water tap won't worry about getting pennies back for the plastic container. That's partly why 3 million plastic water bottles each day get dumped in California trash cans instead of recycling bins. It's also why legislation to double the redemption value on plastic bottles and a statewide consumer-awareness campaign won't by themselves solve this growing environmental mess.

It's not a household problem. Cities and trash haulers make it easy for homeowners to recycle, letting them mingle different kinds of recyclables in the same bin and providing curbside pickup. As a result, compliance is high.

The bigger problem, experts say, occurs on the street, at the beach and especially at work. Where to recycle the water bottles that you carry as you walk or drive or have on your desk at work? When's the last time you saw a recycling container on a street corner or at an office building? Most people won't cart those empties back home.

Using a grant from the state Department of Conservation, San Francisco puts bottle recycling bins atop many sidewalk trash cans. The homeless and nonprofit groups are welcome to empty these and get the redemption refund, which they do. San Francisco and Berkeley offer free recycling service to businesses and reduce their regular pickup fees if they recycle enough.

Los Angeles has just started similar programs, including putting recycling receptacles at the zoo and other public places. A pilot effort targets some businesses. But it's tough to put a cohesive plan in place because most of the city's businesses are served by a patchwork of private haulers.

Raising the redemption value might help to promote informal recycling by janitors and nonprofits. The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday rejected Sen. Byron Sher's (D-Stanford) SB 23, which would have doubled the refund to a nickel a bottle. It should reconsider.

But money alone won't solve this problem. Once officials and businesses make recycling at the office or park as convenient as it is at home, Californians will do their part to clean up the environment.

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