Despite the proliferation of curbside collection programs and redeemable refunds for bottles and cans, people are recycling less than a decade ago, the state Department of Conservation says.A major culprit: bars and restaurants, which have yet to get with the program in large numbers.
Californians send more than 4.5 million bottles a day to landfills or 1.6 billion a year. In the process, residents and businesses miss out on about $70 million a year in glass bottle refunds, state officials estimate.
Hoping to reverse the trend, state officials today are scheduled to announce a partnership with the country's largest beer makers and biggest restaurant trade group to persuade more eateries and watering holes to recycle used bottles.
"We've got a real problem: Glass recycling is at a 10-year low," said Darryl Young, director of the California Department of Conservation. "Many people at home may be recycling, but we know that at many bars and restaurants they are not. We're asking them to start. It's not just a feel-good environmental thing, it is economically sound for restaurants and bars."
At a fabled watering hole were many faux spirits were consumed the set of the former television sitcom "Cheers" in Hollywood state officials are scheduled to announce that the California Restaurant Assn. has agreed to promote recycling among its members. Miller Brewing Co., Anheuser Busch Co. and Coors Brewing Co. will help pay for promotional posters and recycling bins, officials said.
"People have made great strides in recycling at home, and we applaud the California Department of Conservation and the California Restaurant Assn. for encouraging bars and restaurants to adopt the same practice in their businesses," said Lise Herren, vice president and chief operating officer of Anheuser-Busch Recycling Corp., the beer maker's recycling arm.
To promote glass bottle recycling, state officials plan to put more restaurants in touch with recyclers. Officials also plan to provide a website that restaurants and bars could use to calculate how much they could save on their trash bill, and earn in refunds, if they sorted and saved all their bottles.
From 1992 to 2002, glass bottle recycling rates dropped from 72% to 52% even as sales of glass beverage containers increased. Aluminum can rates fell from 85% in 1992 to 74% in 2002. Plastic bottle recycling also dropped sharply, from 68% to 36% in 2002, though preliminary data suggested that it bounced back last year after news stories on that issue.
California is still far ahead of most states in recycling. Though nationwide figures are scarce, the Container Recycling Institute, a Virginia-based nonprofit recycling advocate, said the most recent statistics from the Environmental Protection Agency indicate that about 26% of glass bottles are being collected for reuse, down from a 33% estimate cited by a glass trade group two years earlier.
However, California is one of only 10 states offering redeemable refunds for recycled goods. Such states typically have higher recycling rates.
California is falling well short of its goal, set under a 1986 law, of recycling 80% of its bottles and cans. Officials hope that an increase in redemption rates, which have doubled under a law that took effect this year and are worth 4 to 8 cents for a typical small bottle, will boost recycling.
Tumbling recycling rates have become a nationwide concern.
Earlier this week, the Container Recycling Institute announced that American consumers had reached a high-water mark for waste: More than a trillion aluminum cans have been thrown away since their use for soft drinks and beer began 40 years ago. Recycling rates for cans have been dropping nationwide for years, even as the percentage of homes with curbside recycling has risen, the group said.
Only 44% of the cans sold across the country last year were recycled the lowest level since 1980.
"The glass industry wants more recycled glass, the plastics industry wants more plastic. The problem is supply," said the recycling institute's executive director, Pat Franklin. "The supply is shrinking, not because it is not out there in the U.S., but because it is not being collected."