Why should leftists bother to make recycling work when their real objective is reached merely by appearing to practice it?
Recycling is a leftist sacrament. It fulfills emotional needs for Democrats. They suffer deep-seated guilt from participating in a materialistic culture that they think results in widespread environmental harm. For them recycling serves as a kind of visible penance. Unfortunately, recycling leads to unintended consequences.
A recent article in the Eureka, California Times-Standard began as follows:
“The CRV situation in Humboldt County is a losing situation for everyone.Three major recycling centers in the county have halted all buyback programs for cans, bottles, and glass.Customers who pay 5 cents per can at the grocery or convenience store have a nearly impossible time getting that fee back.”
“CRV” stands for California Refund Value. Two out of three of those words are bogus. Refunds have almost ceased and recyclables have little or no value. The program, however, epitomizes California.
Californians are the truest believers in recycling. Over the decades the state has passed laws that use both force and bribery to increase recycling obedience. One such law pertains to glass, plastic, aluminum cans, and bottles. It requires merchants who sell beverages to charge customers an extra 5 cents for containers up to 24 ounces and 10 cents for containers above 24 ounces.
The legislation enabling the program is the “California Beverage Container Recycling and Litter Reduction Act.” It has been in effect since 1987 and is administered by the CalRecycle agency.
The law requires supermarkets and other beverage dealers to reimburse the 5 or 10 cent deposits to anyone bringing in their containers, no matter where they acquired them. Milk, wine, and distilled spirits containers are exempt from the law. Beverage merchants must pay a fine of $100 a day if they choose not to participate.
As you might suspect the program has been something of a minor catastrophe. Part of the problem is that in California and elsewhere recycling has all but collapsed, partly because China stopped buying recyclables. The state passed the law based on the assumption that recycling would always be economically viable.
Wildberries Marketplace, a local supermarket, has chosen to pay the $100 a day fine. According to manager Aaron Gottschalk , “We are here to sell groceries. We are not a recycling center. We felt it was a risk to the safety and sanitation of our store. We just knew we couldn't do it. Did we want to avoid the fee? You bet. But in order to avoid the fee paid to CalRecycle, we would have to fabricate a story and say we were doing something that we were not doing. We weren't going to make that choice and we're paying the fee.”
Wildberries, in other words, is being forced to pay a $100 a day fine for being out of compliance with a law that is all but impossible to obey.
Wildberries is where my wife and I buy most of our groceries. In a conversation with Gottschalk she was told, “Complying would cost us way more than $100 a day. We would have to take every bit of recycling offered to us and then truck it to Crescent City at our expense.” (Crescent city is 85 miles north of the store.)
According to CalRecycle 50 retailers in Humboldt County are now obligated to redeem CRV containers in stores. Notably absent from CalRecycle’s list are Walmart, Target, and Winco.
Most of the Humboldt County designated recycling sites are simply ignoring the rules—they aren’t taking in cans and bottles and they aren’t paying the fines. CalRecycle has been locked down for the past year so there has been no on-site enforcement.
For all practical purposes, recycling has ceased. It simply is no longer economically viable. Supply and demand have turned against it. The price paid for recyclables is below zero, i.e. you have to pay to get someone to take it off your hands. As is the case with ethanol fuel, recycling can only thrive by way of coercion or taxpayer-funded subsidies.
Lawmakers in California are aware of the mess they’ve created, but don’t assume they’ll do anything about it that makes sense. North Coast Assemblyman Jim Wood recently submitted legislation that would permit recycling centers to schedule appointments, something that’s currently prohibited. According to Wood, “These modest changes will by no means solve all the problems facing the bottle bill program, but they address a crisis in my district, and hopefully they will help other communities struggling with access to redemption centers.” Exactly how making appointments would solve any of the deeper problems of the program, he did not explain.
Meanwhile ninety-five percent or more of what goes into recycling bins goes to landfills. That reality is something no one wants to talk about. It would be too upsetting. What we have is faux recycling.
The left’s use of recycling as visible penance is similar to what Christian theology called “outward signs of grace.” That was an issue Saint Augustine addressed in the 4th century. It dealt with the fact that others could not see if you had grace. Recycling is a modern attempt to cope with the same problem.
Ron Ross Ph.D. is a former economics professor who is currently a wealth manager. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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