Many Californians are having a tough time recycling bottles and cans and getting back deposits as hundreds of recycling centers shutter throughout the state -- but something else is going on behind the scenes that is making it even worse.
Here’s how it’s supposed to work:
For every can and bottle you recycle, you get back a five or ten cent CRV.
But many consumers, like Mark Milan, say it’s easier said than done.
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“I showed up with an entirely full car of cans,” he said. “It said 'gone out of business.'"
His local recycling center shut down along with 340 others throughout the state.
That now means many retailers who sell the single-use beverages are required to take back the empty cans and bottles.
But, the state gives stores an out in this arrangement -- instead of taking your recyclables, they can opt to pay a daily $100 fine.
Many don't. More than 400 retailers owe the state nearly $10 million in these fines.
“As a good corporate citizen, they should be following the law,” Milan said.
According to Calrecycle, the agency that runs the state's recycling program, Walgreens owes $172,000.
Walmart -- $312,000.
CVS owes $445,000.
In a statement to NBCLA, CVS said: "We are aware of Calrecycle's claims and disagree with their allegations."
Walgreens said, “We've been working with the state to resolve this matter, and can confirm that payments have been processed for any outstanding balance due."
Walmart did not respond.
But it's not just retail giants. Mom-and-pop shops owe big money too.
One small liquor store owes $94,000, while a gas station owes $85,000.
"I'm appalled,” Jamie Court of Consumer Watchdog said. "It's the state's fault. The state's the cop on the beat. Grocery stores and retail chains have definitely been bilking the system. But it's the state's obligation to smack their knuckles.”
So what's Calrecycle doing to collect on its past due accounts?
It recently fined CVS $3.6 million for refusing to pay the daily fine.
As for other retailers, Calrecycle said it sends monthly collection notices, and it said "while legal action takes time and resources" it “will continue to be utilized for the largest violators."
Court says it's clear the daily fines aren't working.
He says the state should simply require all retailers to take back recyclables.
"The importance of the return to the retailer is that it's easy -- you get your money,” Court said. "Every retailer in the state should have to participate"
Milan said he’s on board with that.
“I want to stop giving you my money because you're not giving it back according to the rules,” Milan said.
Lawmakers have introduced legislation to fix the recycling problem, but it's always fallen through.
Consumer Watchdog says it's looking to Gov. Gavin Newsom to step in and fix the problem.