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  • Donna

Recycling Doesn’t Pay… Yet

Updated: Nov 26, 2020

recycling bins

In California, a 12-pack of Pepsi costs around $3.00 if I wait for a sale. Which I do. But, no matter how patient I am, I can never get around the 60 cents extra I lend the state for the aluminum used to make the cans.

“Don’t worry,” the state says, “it’s just a deposit. If you bother to recycle, you’ll get your money back.” It’s sort of like forcing me to pay for the unethical decision to send my cans to the landfill.

“No worries,” I used to think. “It’s just part of living here. I like that they care so much about the environment, so yeah, screw me if I don’t do it.” At the time, I lived in an apartment building with a trash chute and no recycling bins. I was willing to trade being lazy for letting California keep my deposit.

But recently, I read an article about how the state’s recycling rate is more than 100%. It loses more money on the deposit program than it makes. Why? Because people drive trucks full of recyclables across state lines, where California will refund a deposit they never paid. I mean, where California will pay them my refund that I never received. And… a little bit of my taxes too. This is illegal, but the state hasn’t figured out how to stop it yet.

When I mentioned this to my then-girlfriend, she made a great point–that since we bought a house two years ago, we have been recycling our cans and bottles by putting them in the blue recycle bin for trash pick-up. All this time we’ve been paying a deposit, and then not only returning those recyclables to the state, but paying them again to take them. Why can’t the cans and bottles I put in the blue recycle bin be deducted from my monthly trash bill?

So I began withholding the aluminum and glass bounty from the recycle bin and took them to rePLANET in the parking lot at Ralph’s grocery store. After standing in line for about 10 minutes, I received a slip of paper with my refund amount. I then went into the Ralph’s, waited my turn, and traded that slip of paper for $6.38.

The CalRecycle site says “Californians don’t have to go out of their way to recycle. There are approximately 2,200 recycling centers statewide that buy back empty California Refund Value (CRV) beverage containers, most conveniently located near places you live and work.” But they skip over the part that mentions hauling your recyclables to a center with the convenient hours of 9am-4:30pm, standing in line, sorting through your stuff and dumping it into dirty trash cans while people eyeball you and wish you’d hurry up, schlepping into the store with your slip of paper, and then waiting in line again to receive your refund. There are machines that may be used for particular cans and bottles, but they’re often full, which results in the frustration of bringing recyclables there and then taking them back home again. (My ex and I tried this approach a couple of times while in the apartment and gave up.)

My options as I see them–stop buying cans and bottles in California, or, start visiting rePLANET on a regular basis. While I’m annoyed at the lengths the bankrupt state I love has gone to to keep my money, I’m not offended enough to drive to Arizona or Mexico for beverages. So, I invested in four trash cans and a couple of mesh laundry bags today in an effort to make getting my money back as painless as possible. I learned during my trip to rePLANET that I can get money for things I didn’t pay a deposit for, like mayonnaise jars, soup cans, wine bottles, and milk jugs. So yes, I now have receptacles for those and plan to dutifully haul them to the recycling station out of principle. Perhaps, one day, I will even make money.

At the moment, I have received $6.38 and spent $85.05. Not off to a stellar start. But hey, every new start-up requires investment capital. But more importantly, every Virgo needs her trash storage to remain clean and organized.


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