Recycling fraud running rampant in California
October 8, 2012
Last year, consumers purchased 8.5 billion recyclable cans in California while 8.3 billion cans made their way to recycling centers [LA Times].
While recyclers redeemed cans at nearly a 100 percent rate, the recycling rate for certain plastic containers actually eclipsed 100 percent, reaching 104 percent.
Much of the recycling fraud can be attributed to drivers bringing the plastic bottles and containers into California from out-of-state. Neither Nevada, nor Arizona have recycling redemption programs.
Last summer the state Department of Food and Agriculture conducted a three-month investigation into vehicles driving into California with used beverage containers. CDFA discovered a total of 3,500 vehicles at 16 border stations, including 505 rental trucks filled to capacity with cans.
Government officials recently estimated $40 million a year of fraud in California’s recycling program, which has a $1.1 billion fund. The fund paid out $100 million more in expenses than it collected in revenue last year from fees on plastic products and other sources. An industry expert said the amount of fraud in the recycling fund could exceed $200 million.
In addition to recyclables arriving from out-of-state, fraud occurs rapidly instate when recycling centers distribute nickels for containers recycled several times over or for containers that do not even exist.
“The law says California has to make it easy to recycle,” Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Dave Chapman told the LA Times. “So anyone with a devious mind, it’s so easy, they can just go right in.”
Not only do individuals with devious minds participate in the state recycling program, but illicit recycling rings have become common in and around the state. So much so that the Justice Department has a recycling fraud unit. In 2010, special recycling investigation agents busted an Arizona based ring for bringing in at least $189,000 worth of cans in a period of a few weeks. The investigation led to the owner of San Diego based Ace Recycling pleading guilty, along with several others, to grand theft and unlawful recycling.
Though California is one of 11 states that operate container redemption programs, it is one of only two in the region. Oregon has the only recycling redemption program geographically close to the state. Likewise, California is the only state besides Hawaii to administer the program through private recycling centers.
State officials say California recycling centers must abide by certain precautions, which include not buying more than 500 pounds of aluminum or 2,500 pounds of glass from one person in a given day.