Ralphs Malibu has been hit with a $6,000 fine—and growing daily—since it eliminated its recycling program. The machines that redeemed used beverage containers for cash vouchers were removed from the Malibu store last September. At the time, an employee (unauthorized to speak for the company) said neighbors on Malibu Road had been complaining about the growing homeless population that used the machines and congregated at the storefront.
With the plastics market bottoming out, however, many recycling companies have gone out of business, which may have led to the machines’ demise. Still, Ralphs’ critics charge the company with trying to eliminate a “homeless magnet” since the grocer also removed tables and benches at its storefront used by the public to eat food purchased at the store.
Initial attempts contacting Ralphs Corporation were deflected to Cal Recycle. The California Grocer’s Association then contacted The Malibu Times. Calling it a statewide crisis, Vice President of Communications David Heylen said, “The program worked fantastically for almost 30 years. It was probably the model in the world for affective recycling with California’s participation at about 80 percent, but companies like Replanet were no longer making money and shut down almost overnight.
“It’s not easy for retailers to bring those bottles and cans back into the store, particularly in light of increased concern over food safety,” Heylen continued. “We’re trying to work with the legislature to get the recycling program back on its feet. It’s still in the working stage.”
With the end of recycling at Ralphs, the store is now faced with fines levied by Cal Recycle, the state agency charged with enforcement of the California Beverage Container Recycling and Litter Reduction Act, otherwise known as the Bottle Bill. That bill was enacted 30 years ago to place a recycling incentive on plastic, glass and aluminum beverage containers.
Ralphs, CVS, P.C. Greens and Charlie’s 76 were issued noncompliance notices in February, alerting the businesses that they are in an unserved convenience zone—defined as a half-mile radius around a business that sells beverages containers. By law, the zone must be served by a recycling center so people can redeem empty containers close to where the items were purchased. Elsewhere in the state, centers are often set up in supermarket parking lots. When a zone becomes unserved, that area goes into an exemption review process. An exemption would only happen if the shop was in reasonable proximity to a recycling center in an adjacent zone.
“That wasn’t the case here,” according to Mark Oldfield, spokesperson for Cal Recycle. “All of the retailers in the area received a 60-day notice in February to comply saying you’ll either have the choice to redeem in store or pay an opt out fee.” A second notice went out in March.
After a grace period, a final notice and affidavit were sent April 19.
“As of now, [Ralphs] has not returned the affidavit,” Oldfield disclosed. “What that means is they default to pay the opt-out fee option and we have subsequently invoiced them for both May and June at $100 per day.” CVS, P.C. Greens and 76 are also being billed. Country Liquor and Colony House Liquor have elected to redeem in store.
The owner of Pacific Coast Greens, Michael Osterman, did acknowledge receiving a letter from Cal Recycle stating he was in violation of the law and would be fined, even though P.C. Greens accepts glass bottle recycling. However, Osterman said the issue is not so simple. He explained the health department would find it problematic if his small grocery took in dirty bottles and cans. Calling his store “local, family run and not a big corporation like Kroger” Osterman said the fine was “not reasonable” and said he will try to get an exemption.
Cal Recycle also claims that a consumer can redeem the CRV tax on any bottle or can, even if the item was not purchased at the location of redemption.
To date, the four Malibu businesses cited for noncompliance have not paid any fines and Cal Recycle confirmed it will take action.
“Noncompliance can result in a violation that can carry an administrative penalty or financial fine. Those stores that are nonresponsive—if they continue to not pay on the invoicing, then we will take the next level of enforcement which is to follow up with them and try to get them into compliance,” Oldfield said. “That’s always what the first goal is for us: to gain compliance. In the absence of compliance, then we’ll ratchet it up and can take further action including civil penalties. Once we’re aware of a noncompliance situation, then we’ll take appropriate action. I can’t say how long any particular action is going to take against any particular retailer.”
The Malibu Times contacted the CVS corporation in Rhode Island and was sent this statement: “CVS Pharmacy is in regular communication with Cal Recycle in order to identify and address any compliance issues in our stores. To date, we have not received notification from Cal Recycle concerning our West Malibu Rd. location.”
The Malibu Times again checked with the state agency and was again informed that noncompliance notices were indeed sent.
Pavilions grocery store in Point Dume takes recycling in store Monday through Friday from 11 a.m.-7 p.m.