With Earth Day approaching, where can you recycle CRV containers?

A sign is showing what can be recycled. Photo by Samantha Bravo/TMT

The difficulty in redeeming CRV tax and recycling cans and bottles locally

The 54th Earth Day on April 22 is billed as the world’s largest event dedicated to preserving our planet. City-sponsored events in Malibu include Electronic and Household Hazardous Waste Collection, Document Shred Day, Organic Recycling Virtual Training, the 2024 State of the Watershed, and a Firescaping class, with all events free and open to the public. 

The city will also be posting sustainability tips on social media throughout Earth Month. But there’s been scant discussion on recycling cans and bottles that are subject to the state CRV (California Redemption Value) tax and receiving your deposit back from your purchase. 

The CRV tax was initially imposed in 1987 to encourage the recycling of bottles and cans that would otherwise end up in landfills. CRV is a fee that is paid to the state by beverage distributors, not a deposit. Distributors pass the fee along to customers through California law.

The program is administered by CalRecycle. Beginning Jan. 1, 2024, more beverage containers, especially those containing alcohol, are now charged the CRV value of either 5 or 10 cents per container. But the CRV is much less a redemption value now than it is a fee or part of the selling price. It’s more like a convenience charge, which the distributor is choosing to recover from the customer, but technically which the customer can recover by returning the container. However, redemption for cash value is extremely difficult, not to mention time-consuming.

In the last few years the business model for recycling centers bottomed out, forcing many to simply close because the bulk return rates were not sustainable for profits. Many grocery stores that used to recycle materials either inside or outside their stores stopped the practice, claiming that handling the materials is unhygienic.

According to CalRecycle, “If there are no longer traditional recycling centers to provide takeback opportunities in your area, state law puts the redemption obligation on CRV beverage retailers. A check of CalRecycle’s in-store CRV redemption locator database shows the following retailers returned signed affidavits to CalRecycle choosing to redeem in-store rather than pay a $100 daily penalty to fulfill their legal redemption requirements. Those stores are ARCO ampm, 29145 Heathercliff Road; John’s Garden; Malibu Chevron, 23670 Pacific Coast Highway; Malibu Ranch Market; Malibu Shell; Trancas Canyon Chevron, and Vintage Grocers.

When contacted, it appeared only Vintage Grocers and John’s Garden were accepting pre-counted can and bottle returns for CRV redemption with the latter, a restaurant, not equipped to receive large quantities of takebacks, but certainly willing to return deposits on containers purchased at the eatery. The other retailers in the database may not be actively in compliance with CalRecycle. 

As for other major grocery stores in Malibu, Whole Foods does not accept CRV redemptions; Pavilions, which previously accepted returns, no longer does; and Ralphs removed their automated return machines located at their storefront about six years ago. Ralphs and Pavilions, as well as CVS Pharmacy, have been paying a $100 daily fine to CalRecycle for non-compliance. As of their last payment on March 28, Ralphs has paid $186,000 instead of providing recycling machines. The Ralphs Corporation was unavailable for comment.

Redemption programs are about to change, though, with reforms beginning Jan. 1, 2025. Beverage retailers over 5,000 square feet and more than $1.5 million annual sales, excluding fuel, in what CalRecycle terms “unserved convenience zones” will no longer have the option to pay $100-per-day to not redeem. Instead, obligated retailers, including Ralphs Malibu, will have the option to either redeem CRV containers in store, or join a non-profit dealer cooperative that redeems on its behalf.

CalRecycle stated there is $300 million approved by lawmakers to expand recycling efforts that could include reverse vending machines, mobile recycling, and bag-drop recycling.

A reverse vending machine is described as an unattended machine allowing CRV containers for input one-by-one, or others allowing consumers to input many containers at once.

If a certified recycling center or obligated beverage retailer fails to fulfill its legal redemption obligations, Californians can file a formal complaint by calling 1-800-RECYCLE or emailing complaints@calrecycle.ca.gov. Non-compliant businesses face CalRecycle inspections and escalating penalties of up to $10,000 for each violation. 

The public is encouraged to weigh in on the proposed new recycling rules electronicallyby mail, or by joining an April 30 hybrid public hearing starting at 9 a.m. in the CalEPA headquarters in Sacramento (Zoom registration required for remote participation).