Bee Investigator: Recycling laws likely have you confused

snowicki@modbee.comAugust 18, 2013 

— Whether you recycle or not, you're probably affected by the state's sometimes confusing recycling laws.

For example, if you buy a small can or bottle of pop, you're paying 5 cents CRV (California Redemption Value) at the checkout counter. If you toss it in the trash, you get nothing. If you take the container to a recycling center, you'll get your 5 cents back. Sounds fairly straightforward, right?

But consider this: If you buy an 8-ounce container of 100 percent juice, you pay a CRV fee of 5 cents; if you buy the same juice in a container that is 46 ounces or more, you pay no fee. So if you buy a six-pack of those 8-ounce apple juice bottles, it will cost you 30 cents (5 cents each) for the CRV on that 48 ounces. If you bought the same juice in a 48-ounce container, you would not pay the fee.

Yep, it's true.

And there is no CRV fee on milk or other dairy products. But there is CRV on all juice-blend drinks (less than 100 percent juice), no matter what the size. There are even a few containers that have a redemption value noted for other states, but not for California.

It makes you wonder who thought up these rules. Seems like someone "ain't got the good sense God gave a goose," as my friend's Southern granny would say. Why not put it on all beverages? Or at least all except milk? As it is, trying to figure out what's CRV and what isn't might drive you to drink.

Juice, that is.

Earlier this year, Lillian Gordon of Modesto wandered into the quicksand that is the recycling regulations.

"I took all my bottles and cans to be recycled at the Modesto Junk Co. They advised me they couldn't pay for a few of my bottles — fruit punch and grape drink — that I had bought from the Safeway on McHenry Avenue," she said.

She said she paid 10 cents CRV for the drinks, but when she went back to the store to complain, a customer service person told her they were required to charge CRV for them. She wanted to know why she couldn't get her money back.

"Of course," she said, "10 cents isn't a lot of money, but how many more people like me are not getting their recycling money back?"

I called Keith Highiet, co-owner of the Modesto Junk Co., for the scoop. He's the one who explained some of the odd rules to me.

"If there is a CRV container, depending on size, it's worth either 5 cents or 10 cents," he said. "If it's not marked CRV, we're not allowed to pay."

So it's best to check the label and see if you can find the CRV label.

Highiet said he has one or two customers a week who ask about the issue.

"It can be confusing," he said. "It's a bit confusing even for us — and we do it all day long every day!"

Sometimes people think the store charged them a CRV fee on a container when it didn't. On rare occasions, the manufacturer might have mislabeled the drink container.

I checked it out last week by buying a variety of drinks at the downtown Save Mart store. I double-checked before and after paying for them: All that were marked with CRV got charged the fee; the ones that didn't have the mark didn't carry the extra fee. The CRV cost, or lack of one, was automatically programmed into the store's computer system, not added by the checker.

So what happened in the case of Lillian? Hard to tell. But, Highiet said, if there was a CRV label on the container, she would have received her money back.

The state, Highiet said, determines the CRV items.

"They go around to recycling centers all over the state to keep that weight conversion right," he said. That's because recyclers actually pay per pound rather than per container, but it works out to the same amount of money.

Except if you're recycling aluminum cans.

"Currently, the CRV value is $1.59 a pound, but we pay $2.10 a pound. So 51 cents per pound is the scrap value," Highiet said. That means you're getting more for those cans than you paid in CRV fees.

He added that his company takes all containers, "non-CRV items, too. Some have a lower value (than if it had been marked as a CRV) and some we take for free. But we'll take it all."

Want to know more? Check out the state recycling link online at www.calrecycle.ca.gov/ bevcontainer/consumers.

Send questions to Sue Nowicki at snowicki@modbee.com, fax to (209) 578-2207 or mail to P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352-5256.

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