Another Sonoma County recycling center closes, leaving consumers with even fewer local options to redeem bottles and cans

It will soon become even harder to earn a little extra cash in Sonoma County for handing over bottles and cans.

One of the few remaining recycling salvage sites in the area, Brogard in Windsor, will close on August 26 after 19 years. The scrap site at the same location, West Coast Metals, will continue to operate.

“We’re not really happy about it because we’ve been serving the community for so long,” owner Linda Gardner told me, “but just in terms of dollars, we can’t keep losing money. money every month.”

That’s more bad news for consumers who are already struggling to recoup the 5-cent or 10-cent container fee, as redemption centers and California Refund Value retailers have dwindled in recent years. California lost nearly half of its container recycling operations in the last decade.

In Sonoma County, 85% of sites have closed in the past decade, and in some other northern California counties, there are none.

The Press Democrat previously reported on the state’s embattled recycling setup.

California is one of 10 states with a “bottle bill” that applies a cashback value to most plastic glasses, cans and bottles in an effort to encourage recycling. While a generally effective toolthe Californian system, managed by CalRecyclestruggled, and the closure of site after site made it difficult to cash out. This resulted in over $635 million in unclaimed deposits and a 61% reimbursement rate in 2021lower than most other states with similar programs.

All recycling programs have had to deal with falling prices for recovered materials, such as plastics, because the markets for them, especially in China, have shrunk. But California’s recycling system has also been tormented by fraud, loopholes and inefficiencies which recycling companies say made it difficult to keep afloat.

“Over the years, things got worse. We didn’t make a lot of money, but we were able to stay open,” Gardner said.

Lately, however, Brogard has struggled to absorb increased traffic as other sites in the region have closed. Operating and labor costs have skyrocketed and, at the same time, state subsidies have fallen.

“We just can’t keep operating at a loss,” Gardner told me.

Systemic issues

“Many sites, especially in higher operating cost areas like Sonoma County, have closed,” said Jeff Donlevy, general manager of Ming’s Resource Corporation, an East-based processing plant. Bay.

“Those in need of money will find the very few open recycling centers,” he added. “They face long queues and the sites, in many cases, are overwhelmed.”

Operations like Ming’s buy empties from other recycling operations, including Brogard, and prepare them for resale to convert them into new products. Ming’s handles about a third of all California Refund Value containers in the state, and Donlevy estimates that business is down 20 to 30 percent from seven years ago.

A major problem, according to recycling operators and advocates, is that state subsidies, designed to compensate corporate recycling costs are outdated, inflexible and inadequate.

“The raw materials market for recyclables is very volatile these days, and the subsidies paid out by CalRecycle just aren’t enough to help keep sites like Brogard running,” Donlevy told me.

“It’s a flawed accounting formula that ends up shorting a lot of redemption centers every few years and then they go bankrupt,” said Liza Tucker of Consumer Watchdog, who has spent years researching the issue. “It’s not profitable.”

Northern operations are at a particular disadvantage, Donlevy said, because these grants are based on statewide averages, and with 70% of recycling centers based in Southern California, the calculations are skewed. towards the generally lower costs of doing business there as there are more establishments serving a larger population.

“Recycling centers are small businesses that face hurdles that many small businesses face, which can include increased rent, location issues and wages,” said CalRecycle spokesperson, Lance Klug. “Recycling centers also face a fluctuating market for plastic, aluminum and glass… Payments to recyclers from the program cannot change as quickly as the market.”

Klug noted that changes to the accounting process require legislative guidance.

Role of retailers

As sites close, large grocery stores and retail stores, which sell the bottles and cans in the first place and pass the California value refund fee on to consumers, are meant to be a fallback in the program. . Legally, they are required to collect the containers if there are no recycling sites nearby.