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Recycling FAQs

By Phil Wayne
Staff Writer

1. My local market won’t take back bottles and cans. Why not?

Many markets are close enough to a recycling center that they are not required to accept bottles and cans back from the public.

As explained in the Department of Conservation’s Assembly Bill 28, Frequently Asked Questions, “Most grocery stores are required to have a recycling center within a half-mile ‘convenience zone’ of the store. Unless the store receives an exemption from the Department, the store is required to redeem all empty CRV beverage containers in the store until the Department certifies a recycling center in the convenience zone that the store either creates or resides in. Look for a sign near the store’s entrance that will tell you where the closest recycling center is located or if the containers can be redeemed in-store.”

There are numerous recycling locations from which to choose.

2. I’ve always wondered if I’m getting my money’s worth when my recyclables are weighed. It seems like my loads are not paid as much by weight as they would be by count. Why not?

Not all beverage containers are created equal. Because they come in thousands of shapes, sizes and weights, some will pay more by count than by weight and vice-versa.

Since both by-count and by-weight recycling methods are in use, the State must arrive at formulas and rates to ensure that consumers receive proper CRV reimbursement for all types of containers, using either recycling method.

It therefore weighs hundreds of containers in sample loads of CRV recyclables in order to come up with average, per-pound refund rates for different material types.

In theory, those per-pound rates should roughly correspond to the total CRV value of the individual containers in a pound. In other words, if a pound of mixed aluminum containers usually contains about thirty cans, the State per-pound rate of $1.24 should be more or less equivalent to the actual CRV value of those cans, had they been counted one by one. Actual, real-life loads of containers will vary, often containing a mix of both 4-cent and 8-cent sizes. Current refund rates can be found at the DOC website.

In general, consumers are better off recycling by count if the CRV containers are smaller and/or lighter, since that means more containers per pound. However, if they are larger and heavier – meaning fewer containers per pound – recycling by weight will sometimes earn a larger refund.


  • 100 empty Westmalle beer bottles (each weighing a whopping 11.1 oz.) will pay only $4 by count but, due to their considerable heft, will return about $5.75 by weight.
  • 100 empty Gerstel Brau beer bottles (each weighing a meager 5.7 oz.) will also garner $4.00 by count, but only $2.85 by weight.

3. If recycling centers are required to count only 50 containers of each material type, how is the CRV value of the remaining containers figured?

In general, the remaining bottles will be weighed and the State’s Segregated or Commingled Per Pound rate will be paid for those containers.

However, Allan Company, which runs the Santa Monica Recycling Center, claims that they want “to provide a higher level of service and satisfaction” and will therefore “count a reasonable number of beverage containers above and beyond what is required if we determine that is appropriate under the circumstances.”

Alternately, Rudy Martin, the center supervisor, offered a workaround. Occasionally, he said, “We will see how many [containers] are in a pound and figure accordingly.”

For example, if a customer had hundreds of containers, the attendant would weigh a pound of them to see how many containers that pound contains. He could then weigh the entire load and multiply the total pounds by the number of containers per pound. The total number of containers would then be multiplied by either four or eight cents, depending on the size of the bottles or cans.

4. I see that some recycling centers pay more than the per-pound amount required by the State. Why is that?

It’s important to differentiate between California Refund Value (CRV) and scrap value.

In addition to the CRV per-pound rates paid, recycling centers will often pay an additional amount for the scrap value of the material. Santa Monica Recycling currently pays $1.40 per pound of CRV aluminum, which includes the $1.24 State CRV as well as $0.16 for scrap value.

Since recyclers/processors sell materials such as aluminum to end users, such as container manufacturers, it makes sense to pass on some of that money to the recycling public to encourage more participation.

5. How do I know if my recycling center has been involved in any enforcement actions? Where can I lodge a complaint?

Consumers can call either the L.A. County Department of Weights and Measures at (562) 940-8916 (http://acwm.co.la.ca.us) or the California DOC’s Division of Recycling at 1-800-RECYCLE (732-9253) from California or by dialing direct to (916) 327-3043 (Dept. of Conservation, Div. of Recycling, Complaints and Enforcement)

6. If the State’s recycling rate is only about 60 percent what happens to the 40 percent of CRV monies that aren’t paid out to the public?

The State uses the remaining 40 percent to administer the program, fund education and outreach, pay handling and processing fees, and provide recycling grant monies.

See the How Much CRV Is Taken In and Paid Out in California and Flow of Payments under the Beverage Container Recycling Program.

7. The program has a few oddities. For example, a 100 percent fruit juice container only returns CRV if it is under 46oz. Similarly, vegetable juice containers earn CRV only if they are under 16oz. And stranger still, sparkling water is taxed – as well as the container’s CRV – while still water is not? Why?

According to Mark Oldfield of the Department of Conservation, “Various interest groups all have their say when legislation is being crafted, and different arguments can be applied depending on the products.

”With regard to vegetable juice CRV being capped at 16 ounces, it was because this came to be considered a ‘single serving’ of the product, and CRV is generally applied to single-serve containers. Vegetable juice doesn't typically come in very large containers, and when it does, the argument goes, it would be for multiple uses.”

He adds, “Fruit juice, as the argument went, is more likely to be consumed in higher volumes at one time, so the single-serve threshold is higher. Also, it was capped at containers less than 46 ounces in part in the interest of the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program, which subsidizes certain food purchases for low income people, including 100 percent fruit juice. They didn't want CRV to be a factor in whether the WIC recipients would buy the juice.”

As for taxing the bubbles in water, so to speak, the logic seems to be that necessary food items – such as plain water – are not taxed, while “unnecessary” ones are. Apparently, the delightful, nose-tickling bubbles in beverages are an unnecessary luxury. Accordingly, Oldfield explains, “CRV is taxed on taxable beverages and not on non-taxable beverages.”

It is, he says, “a determination made by the state Board of Equalization. The reasoning is that since CRV as a regulatory fee becomes part of the cost of the product, it is then only taxable if the product is taxable, and still water isn't taxable.”

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