For a recycling scavenger whom CBS 5 is calling by the pseudonym "Daniel", it all boils down to the weight of his haul. The cans and bottles he scores from dumpsters in alleys behind San Francisco's downtown offices all hit the scale when he cashes them in at local redemption centers, and if he's doing it right, Daniel can make $1,000 a week, and about $48,0000 a year, or so he tells the station.
Daniel and scavengers like him might be unique in the current statewide California Redemption Value deposit system, instituted in 1987 — they're making money. The system is what Recycling Today calls "an outdated compensation method" that's lagged as scrap values for PET (polyethylene terephthalate), glass, and aluminum have spiraled downward for the past four years.
As the nonprofit Container Recycling Institute tells Recycling Today, certified redemption centers handle almost 90 percent of the state's 18 billion recyclable bottles. However, in the last year, 269 of them have closed, leaving 1,800 remaining.
“When it comes to falling scrap prices, these small redemption centers are the proverbial 'canaries in the coal mine,'" Institute president Susan Collins tells Recycling Today.
To subsidize the redemption centers, the state's recycling program, CalRecycle, issues “processing payments” to them. Even with those, “It’s really, really, really, difficult to stay in business,” the owner of Our Planet Recycling in San Francisco tells the station.
According to Collins, "If the current downward commodity pricing trend continues without structural adjustments to the state’s processing payment formula, recycling centers’ cumulative net losses will inevitably force more of them out of business." The cost of that? "Additional closures will mean not only more job losses and lost recycling opportunities, but a real loss to the people of California, to the sustainable economy and to the environment,” Collins says
Experts like Jennifer Mangold of UC Berkeley’s Laboratory for Manufacturing and Sustainability agree that the status quo isn't sustainable. But something's got to give. #8220;It’ll have to be funded somehow, by consumers or legislation, or government agencies," she says. "[Somehow] it will have to be funded to make economic sense,”
Still, for the Daniels out there, commodities prices and subsidies be damned. That CRV refund stays the same: 5 cents for every container under 24 ounces, and 10 cents for ones of 24 ounces or more.