When the Chinese government announced last month that they no longer want to buy mega-tons of America’s recycling waste, it may have been the final blow to a collapsing recycling industry, forcing the closing of neighborhood buy-back recycling centers around San Diego.
Usually found off to the side of supermarket parking lots, rePlanet, a company with 283 recycling locations around Southern California, closed its doors last week. Several calls during normal business hours to the corporate office in Ontario, CA went straight to voicemail, stating the office was closed.
Locally, customers at the rePlanet location in Encinitas noticed months ago that the two self-serve recycling acceptance machines were closed down. Recycling redemption was only available from employees. Last month the center seemed to have no availability to take glass bottles. Two weeks ago, the large plastic bottle crusher was missing.
“Someone put golf balls in their plastic bottles,” was the excuse given by one employee. “It broke the machine.” That, and for the first time in years, redeemers were paid in cash, rather than having to go into the Vons store in front of the center, to receive their recycling cash.
Bob Hill, director of recycling for EDCO Disposal, said the whole recycling buy-back system in California is failing.
“The state reimburses the buy-back centers for the money they pay out,” Hill said. The state pays two cents per pound for processing, (getting material ready to ship overseas,) and two cents for transportation. “Hard for smaller centers to make money at that rate,” he said.
The largest recycled material is PET #1 plastic water bottles. “In 2010, we were paid 40 cents a pound. Now we get 14 cents a pound,” said Hill.
The state’s recycling system, which collects a tax of five to ten cents per bottle or can purchased at the retail level, is supposed to go back to support the recycling centers. Not every item taxed is returned for recycling. Much of our recyclable products go into a landfill, which has created a surplus in funds.
But rather than use the surplus collected to support the industry, the state agency, Calrecycle, run paid public service announcements and offer grants to cities to increase awareness of recycling efforts. “They’ve got to raise the buy-back rates and processing fees,” said Hill.
Hill says since rePlanet closed, EDCO has seen a 100 percent increase in redeeming at their five San Diego County buy-back locations. As far as EDCO’s future recycling viability, “We’d hate to actually run the numbers,” he said. “I’m sure we’re losing money, but we do it for the public,” he said.
Unbeknownst to many who recycle for cash, supermarkets like Vons and Wal-Mart are required by law to buy back bottles and cans. “But it always takes a lot longer. They [the store employee] have to count each item and the stores don’t really like doing it,” said one redeemer.
For those in Coastal North County that still want to get money back for their recycling, with the closure of three rePlanet locations in Carlsbad, Del Mar, and Encinitas, the nearest buy-back centers are now found along the Highway 78 corridor from Oceanside to Escondido or at the Clairemont Mesa landfill.