When Recycling Centers Close in California, Where Do Consumers Turn?

When recycling centers close, a back-up plan is supposed to provide options for consumers seeking their CRV. Some say that's not happening

The idea behind California Refund Value isn't complicated. Consumers pay a 5- or 10-cent deposit on every beverage bottle and can sold in the state, then return those bottles and cans to get that refund back. 

But consumers like Mark Milan told the NBC4 I-Team that's easier said than done. His local recycling center recently closed. 

When that happens, a back-up plan is supposed to kick in. Most nearby stores that sell the single-use containers are required to recycle them. Some stores are allowed to opt-out and pay a daily $100 fine. 

In fact, 343 recycling centers shut down in the past year across California. In Southern California, 1,500 stores have promised to take back empty cans and bottles. 

Milan said that some aren't following the rules.

"I haven't recycled anything in three months," said Milan. "I've not had luck anywhere."

At three of the closest stores to Milan -- locations within eight miles of his home -- that the state said should take recyclables, two would not accept them. The I-Team called 150 stores, and 93 of them said they would not take recyclables.

A trade group that represents mom-and-pop gas stations and convenience stores said it's just not possible.

"The issue there is they don't have the staffing or the capacity to be able to process mass recycling," said James Allison, of the California Fuels & Convenience Alliance.

As for larger stores, some turned away the I-Team, too. They included a Target Express with a sign out front that said it was required to accept recyclables.

In a statement, a Target spokesperson said, "I can confirm we offer bottle and can redemption at our small format store."

If stores aren't playing by the rules, enforcement falls on CalRecycle, the state agency that oversees recycling. CalRecycle refused to speak with NBC4 on camera, but said it has inspectors to make sure stores that promise to take recyclables really do. The agency said it conducted 1,500 "random or surprise" inspections since the beginning of August.

Gov. Gavin Newsom recently signed a bill that allocates $5 million to expand recycling option. A spokesperson said he cannot change existing law.

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