What “Going Green” Means in California

Going Green in California
What “Going Green” Means in California

What “Going Green” Means in California

So after deciding that if I am going to write articles about things in our lives that have an environmental impact, I would be a level 7 Paladin hypocrite if I didn’t do something to pitch in myself. So next to my trashcan I put a smaller trash can for “recyclables”, and twice a week I drag it out to the city provided bin behind my house and dump it. I began to feel like I was doing my part. Until last night, that is…

I made my normal trip to the bin at the end of my driveway, when I lifted the recycling bin lid I was greeted by what I can only describe as the largest and angriest possum ever to scuttle the planet. A scream exited my body, that I can’t reproduce if I wanted to, that was somewhere in the pitch range between a 6 year-old girl and some species of tree-dwelling rainforest monkey. I’m pretty sure there was a couple of seconds that only the neighborhood dogs could hear. The bag of glass bottles and cans was wind milled and ejected into the alley as I ran back to the house at a speed that belied my age and size.

The next morning in the safety of the morning sun I found myself somewhat shamefully cleaning up my mess from my minor moment of possum weakness. As I collected the shards of bottles scattered across my driveway, I noticed something I never paid attention to. On the bottom of almost every bottle was raised lettering that said “CA CRV 5 cents”. It never occurred to me that the glass bottles that I was throwing away were worth anything, and apparently they are … In California.

What “Going Green” Means in California
“Well, heck yeah!” I thought, “I’m sitting on a gold mine here just in beer cans, malt liquor bottles, and plastic crabmeat containers.” It was time to make Lamborghini money. I made plans right that minute to go and rent a box truck, empty every recycling bin on my block into it, buy some road snacks (which are essential), and head west. Then I remembered that Kramer had this same idea on Seinfeld, and I vaguely remembered that it didn’t work out as planned. Not wanting to end up on an episode of “World’s Dumbest Recyclers”, I decided to do a little research before I rented my box truck. The road snacks would have to wait.

Boy was I glad for the Internet that day. Turns out that even in my state where there is no “Bottle Bill” like there is in California, taking anything out of a recycling bin is against the law. It’s illegal even if it’s my bin, let alone anyone within a respectable box truck driving distance around me. “Okay, I’ll just save up my own stuff”, I decided. “It’ll take longer to buy that Lamborghini, but good things come to those who wait”.

Not Quite: Continued…

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  1. If your municipality is providing your hauling service, revenue from recycled materials is most likely a) helping to physically sustain that program (e.g. fuel for collection trucks, worker wages, new bins, etc.); or b) paying for education/outreach (e.g. printing “what can I recycle” flyers, PSAs, signage for trucks, etc.). True, there is revenue in recycling, but there is also substantial cost in designing and executing the service.
    (solid waste professional here)

    1. Yeah, I don’t think it’s anything sinister that they do with the money, I was just curious. I know some cities have really transparent recycling programs and tell you exactly where the money goes. I don’t live in one of those cities.

      So here is a question: Do you think if people knew where the money was going, say for instance a specific civic project, would they make more of an effort to recycle?1

      1. I live in a city that doesn’t even have municipal pickup, nor contracted service. Residents choose their own hauler, of which there are 5. Two haulers offer recycling, two do not, and one says they are recycling (and charging their clients, of course), but it is common knowledge that the recycling bins are dumped into the landfill-bound trucks. Of the 2 haulers that actually offer recycling, it’s a subscription service, so residents have to pay extra for their efforts. All of this adds up to streets in our city where “trash day” is five days a week and up to 7 trucks come down the lane (5 garbage trucks, 2 recycling trucks), and “political pressure” (read: a few squeaky wheels) means city council is unwilling to fix the problem. How’s that for transparent?! :)

        1. Yeah, That might be a little too “transparent”. Like large man wrapped in saran wrap “transparent”…

          I added a question to my previous comment, I didn’t know if you caught it…

      2. Sorry, just saw your question. And I think, yes, folks would put forth more of an effort to recycle if they knew that they were saving their municipality money or funding the Great American Cleanup or something like that.

        1. Hmmm…Might be an idea there. Make the recycling program a little more specific than just paying the bills. Like if a recycler said “We will take 10% of our proceeds and put it towards a new playground set at the park”. Or something to that effect…

          1. Or, better yet, “recycle xx pounds of glass this year, and a case of beer is on us!” :)

          2. Heck Yeah! That might actually be the real definition of sustainable.

      3. I’ll play devil’s advocate here..I don’t think if there was a specific civil project outlined for recycling funds more people would recycle..if anything, might be the opposite. People already pick and choose what they like or dislike about local government..this would give them more ammunition (you know, they don’t need more parks, they don’t need a roof on the senior center..where are my interests?)…that kind of mentality. With government sometimes it’s better to throw the money in the pot and use what you need for projects the town deems worthy.

        1. That’s understandable, and I agree. It’s impossible to make everyone happy, so in this case – no news is good news.

  2. You could save the bottles and take them back for the deposit, like we did in the days that used to be.

    1. True, there are plenty of recycling opportunities for the intrepid individual out there. Recycling is huge out in East Texas, it’s like a second job for some people.

  3. I think recycling has a lot to do with the individual person and those that are willing to put the time into trying to make a difference even if it’s on a small scale. Aluminum soda cans, plastic water bottles and soda bottles and beer bottles can be returned for 5 cents which I believe most people are willing to return to get their nickel back.

    1. I agree 100%. I originally wrote this article point out the flaws in the recycling program in California, but when it comes down to it, it works. There are programs all over the country that are getting cans and bottles into bin and out of landfills, and that is what matters.

  4. Recycling IS a business..it would do the green movement a lot more good if they could identify the profitability of going green, recycling, etc. There are tremendous business opportunities out there..engaging the business community is the quickest way to reach sustainability targets. People engage in harmful activities because they either have to or know no other way or simply want to. Provide them with a profitable incentive and you will see a shift.

    1. I agree wholeheartedly. We have a story on April 22, that outlines this point exactly. We are the benefactors of one such organization who believes it’s only waste if you throw it away and they have convinced some of the largest companies in the world to change their ways for profit reasons and not just green ones. That is the future of sustainability.

      Thanks for commenting again. We are getting used to seeing your name popup on our posts, we like it.


  5. The monies are designed to legally go back to support the program:education, salaries, etc. They can’t be used for general govt. activities or bills. If you are looking for more details as to “legal” allocation of the funds check out CalRecycle. Unfortunately, the system is no longer the cash cow and is currently under review and transformation. They are looking at going broke unless real changes are made soon. CalRecycle oversees this process. Also when the money goes back into the system vs the individual pocket it helps to pay for recycling programs, jobs and more that rely almost completely on those monies for funding. Having a 20% non return rate is actually helpful to supporting the system. ( The return rate is much lower now.) Landfilling material is cheap and subsidized. Recycling is expensive, usually given for free in municipal franchise contacts, and not subsidized. Yes the program was riddled with controversy due to our former governor illegally borrowing against it. And their is rumor that there may still be hidden funds. But the successful program needs an overhaul and the monies need to go back into the system for which they were designed. People complain that there isn’t enough recycling education and outreach well guess where that money comes from and why it has been drastically cut in the last 4 years.

    1. Very good stuff there, Carolina. I didn’t know that the recycling program wasn’t doing well, that’s interesting. I agree 100% about the education and outreach, that’s part of what we want to do here. Even if it is part of me telling a story about being scared by a possum.

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