Economics of Statewide Recycling: a Critical Review of the California Experience

Walter R. Holman

DOI: 10.2190/UWKR-QW7R-719N-RK98


The state of California has developed an approach to recycling that attempts to overcome the limitations of traditional deposit programs. This approach, initiated by the California Beverage Container Recycling and Litter Reduction Act of 1986 (commonly known as Assembly Bill 2020 or AB 2020), aims to achieve a recycling rate of 80 percent for all aluminum, glass, plastic, and steel beverage containers through the use of economic incentives. A critical component of the California program is the certified recycling centers created by AB 2020. Prior to the passage of AB 2020 in 1986, there were approximately 463 recycling centers operating in California. Enactment of AB 2020 produced a significant number of new recycling centers so that by the latter part of 1990, the total number of recycling facilities had risen to approximately 2,483. This article addresses the costs, inefficiencies, and problems associated with the certified recycling centers (CRCs). It compares the effectiveness of the older recycling centers, which existed prior to the enactment of AB 2020, with the effectiveness of the new certified recycling centers which have arisen as a result of AB 2020. Effectiveness is evaluated on the basis of volume of material recovered, recycling rates, operational costs, and eligibility for state subsidies. The article concludes that the current CRC system is seriously flawed and has the potential to seriously undermine the state's recycling efforts.

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