California's Recycling Rate Drops Following Closures of More Than 500 Recycling Centers

The state's beverage container recycling rates have fallen below 80 percent for the first time since 2008.

Photo Credit: Artem Postoev/Shutterstock

Beverage container recycling rates in California have fallen below 80 percent for the first time since 2008, according to new data released last week by CalRecycle, the state’s recycling agency. The reduced recycling rate means that two million additional containers are littered or landfilled every day, including more than one million plastic bottles. 

The agency’s annual report shows that 79.8 percent of empty beverage containers were recycled in 2016, down from 81 percent in 2015. Recycling rates have equaled or exceeded 80 percent since 2009. 

The drop in recycling rates comes in the wake of reduced program payments for recycling operations and the closing of more than 560 recycling centers in the state in the last 15 months. 

The loss of recycling centers has hit rural areas especially hard. For consumers who try to supplement family income by redeeming containers, the loss of buyback recycling locations has reduced total redemption pay-back by more than $3 million per month. 

In an April report to the Legislature, California’s Legislative Analyst’s office attributed the closures to a decline in scrap prices and “program payments that do not sufficiently cover recycler costs”. 

Despite a $250 million fund surplus, California’s recycling operations are being short changed, resulting in closed centers and declining recycling rates. Consumers and recycling program operators need the Governor and Legislature to come together in this budget and fix what’s been broken.

The report indicates beverage container sales of just over 23.1 billion, with 18.4 billion containers recycled. 

As recently as 2013, the California Bottle Bill had an 85 percent recycling rate, diverting more than one million tons of plastic, glass and metal, and contributing thousands of jobs and more than $2 billion to the state’s economy, while delivering the equivalent of 1.45 million tons of reduced carbon dioxide emissions. 


Mark Murray is the executive director of Californians Against Waste. Over the past 20 years, Mark has helped draft many of California's solid waste and recycling laws. Mark has served on numerous local, state and national environmental advisory boards and commissions.

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