Not quite … it turns out that it is illegal to bring trash across state line into California. The California Redemption Value is, in reality, a tax that is charged on each aluminum container or glass bottle as a deposit. Those deposits are set aside in a special fund, and when the item is returned the recycler gets that deposit back. Items purchased in other states are not charged a deposit, so when they are recycled in California the money paid for them comes from the state fund for an item that didn’t pay towards it. Apparently Kramer and I weren’t the only ones that thought of this plan. The California recycling program is riddled with fraud. In 2009 auditors noticed that of all the high-density polyethylene plastics sold, 117% were returned. Oops. Then later in 2010 there were five recycling fraud cases, that when combined, totaled a $10.5 million dollar loss to the program.
Going to prison for recycling started to sound like a pretty bad idea at this point. The little angel on my left shoulder, who usually gets pummeled by the little devil on my right, reminded me that I didn’t start recycling simply for “Lamborghini money”. I started recycling because I wanted to do my part to “be green”. I’d heard the ladies like “green”, so I returned to my initial saintly endeavor.
Well, it turns out the overall motivations for recycling plans like the “Bottle Bill” in California aren’t strictly about sustainability. They are cash cows. The state boasts an 82% recycling rate, which means that 18% of the taxes collected for the redemption value go unclaimed. On the low end, that’s about $195 million dollars a year. That whole “recycling across state lines” thing being illegal made sense now.
Suddenly, I am eyeing my own recycling bin like it is a creepy old man wandering a playground in an overcoat. It occurs to me that I am paying my municipal trash service to pick up my recyclables that they are just going to turn around and sell. When I tried to find out who is responsible for our local recycling program, I got about half as far as a man in a suit made of bricks and boat anchors would get swimming the English Channel. I simply wanted to know who gets the money from the containers I recycle, and where that money goes. I was met with a goose chase of phone numbers of people that either don’t exist, or comprehend telephone usage on a level of an adult female chimpanzee.
I sighed pretty heavily, and came to my ultimate conclusion: there will be no Lamborghini money. There will be no road snacks. The opportunities to recycle and reclaim the money that I throw away every month are readily available, but unless I utilize them, I have to be comfortable with someone else making money off of my trash. Recycling is a huge step in correcting our eco-impact on the planet, and it is a business. California’s recycling program may have its dark corners and it’s open flaws, but at least it is getting cans and glass bottles into recycling containers.