Today we visited the local recycling center with a load of eight bags full of plastic water bottles and aluminum soda cans.  I use the word “local” rather loosely, as we had to drive to the next town.  The recycling center in our own town closed earlier this year for reasons that are somewhat unclear (rumor has it that the operator was arrested for the possession of illegal firearms).  This created a pronounced hardship for everyone here, particularly for our many homeless individuals who no longer have any means of redeeming the bottles and cans they pick up for a little cash.  Lugging bags of empties on the bus is problematic at best and cuts into one’s profits.  That is, assuming one even has the bus fare.  More than once, we have provided a homeless person with a ride to the recycling center.

In the 105°F heat, we ripped open our bags, dumping our bottles and cans into one large bucket after another.  As you can see in the above photo, the aluminum cans were sent on their way to the crusher, where they are shaped into large blocks of metal that will eventually be reused.

Many states passed “bottle bills” back in the 1970s, when I was in college.  I recall the irritation of consumers over the prospect of paying an extra five cents for each bottle or can purchased, a premium that could only be recouped by returning the container to the store.  This was before recycling centers became commonplace and before many supermarkets installed automatic can crushing machines that spit out nickels like crazed slot machines.

When I lived in New York, many people drove across the border to buy their beverages in New Jersey, where no bottle and can return law exists.  Similarly, when my wife and I lived out in the far reaches of the California desert, many of our neighbors would save their nickels by buying their soda and water over the bridge in Arizona.

Of course, many of us don’t care a whit about recycling and dump our bottles and cans into the trash, the return value be damned.  This is a perpetual boon to teenagers, entrepreneurs and those local homeless people who have the time and patience to dig empties out of dumpsters and pick them up from the side of the road.


Here in California, we have a rather strange container recycling law.  In most states with “return bottle” laws, each empty is worth a nickel.  The exception is Michigan, where bottles and cans are worth ten cents.  You may notice, however, that many cans and bottles are stamped with the indicator “CA CASH VALUE” or “CRV” (California redemption value).  This is because state law permits recycling centers to pay for bottles and cans by weight rather than count.  Thus, today we were paid $1.80 per pound for cans and $1.06 per pound for plastic bottles.  Payout varies from one recycling center to another, but I hear that what you can expect works out to a little over two cents per container.

What I didn’t know until I researched the issue, however, is that Californians have the right to demand that the recycling center pay by the individual container rather than by weight, for the first 50 cans and 50 bottles.  This doesn’t help if you’re bringing in a big haul, but who knew that state law allows you to bring in up to 100 containers and be paid a full nickel for each?  And if a can or bottle holds 24 ounces or more, it is worth ten cents!  You can read about it here.

With the price of gasoline out here in California, it may end up being a wash in the end.  Not many of us want to pay for extra trips to the recycling center so that we can be paid by the container instead of by crush weight.  I think it’s safe to say that most people would rather save up big bags of bottles and cans to bring in for recycling once every few months.

However, I know a few homeless people who might not agree.



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