California's Beverage Container Recycling Rate May Be Dropping, And The Problem Could Get Worse Moving Forward


For almost 10 years, Californians recycled 80% or more of the beverage containers they consumed. This included millions of plastic, aluminum, and glass containers. Californians continue to recycle a majority of the containers they buy within the state, but an alarming trend is starting to form. In 2016, overall recycling rates for beverage containers dropped a couple percentage points below 80%.

A Slightly Sagging Recycling Rate Doesn't Tell The Whole Story

The recycling rate for 2016 in California amounted to 79.8%. While most people wouldn't raise alarms over this number, other factors are in play here. A combination of factors are wreaking havoc on the recycling industry in the Golden State. Hundreds of recycling centers have closed in recent times, and remaining centers cannot meet demand. Plus, issues related to lower energy costs and California's CRV program persist.

More Affordable Energy Isn't Always A Positive

In most industries, lower energy costs are a positive development. That doesn't necessarily apply in the recycling industry, though. Recycling is designed to offset the cost of producing brand new beverage containers (and other items). As energy and oil prices decrease, manufacturers find the production of new materials more enticing than recycling and reusing old materials from a financial standpoint.

Lower energy rates have driven the value of recyclable materials down. Keeping the doors open doesn't make sense for every recycling center in California. In the current environment, these businesses continue to lose money rather than generate a profit. California Redemption Value, a statewide program, is designed to subsidize recyclable materials during times where their value drops below specified limits.

Everyone Is Feeling The Pressure Here

Unfortunately, the program hasn't made adjustments to aid recycling centers. Californians now have fewer and fewer recycling center options. They have to travel farther distances to bring in their recyclables, and some may not make the journey. Even grocery stores are feeling the pressure. According to state law, grocers not in close proximity to a recycling center must pay consumers for their beverage containers themselves.

What can California do to turn this situation around?

The current situation in California is lose-lose for everyone involved. Recycling centers have less incentive than ever before to remain in operation. For centers still in operation, meeting recycling demand seems like a daunting task, and the CRV program provides no assistance. Californians suffer from longer wait times at recycling plants and longer travel times to open plants. A solution remains out of grasp at the moment.

Plus, millions of recyclable beverage containers aren't being recycled in a state that prides itself on being environmentally friendly.