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California law helps turn recycling fraud into a big business

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POSTED October 8, 2012 8:29 p.m.

The latest example of the state nickel and diming the people of California to death is no further than the nearest soda container.

Every time we buy a beverage in a plastic bottle or aluminum container we are slapped with a nickel under the California Redemption law. We can get the nickel back if we recycle it at authorized centers. Most of us don’t do that. Some who do will collect containers from family or friends. Still others who aren’t jumping up and down in joy over a 7.8 percent jobless rate in places outside of California’s borders because they don’t have a job or are severely under employed scavenge the countryside in order to feed their families.

The system was designed to cover its own costs since volunteer recycling programs - even with financial incentives attached - rarely have super high compliance.

But a miracle has been going on in the Golden State for years. In 2011, 8.5 billion recyclable cans with a nickel bounty on them were sold in California and 8.3 billion of them were redeemed. The recycling rate for certain categories of plastic containers that carry a dime redemption value was 104 percent.

It is probably no surprise that the state paid out $100 million more in redemptions and other expenses than they took in last year.

It should be noted that no less than 3,500 vehicles loaded with used beverage containers passed through agricultural inspection stations on the Arizona and Nevada borders alone in the summer of 2011.

This has been going in for years. The annual cost of the fraud is placed at $40 million on the low end by state officials and in excess of $200 million at the high end by beverage container industry spokesmen.

The reality is probably somewhere in between. In short, it could easily have topped $1 billion in 10 years.

So why didn’t the bureaucrats or politicians who oversee the California Redemption program sound the alarm earlier? It’s much easier to pay out the cash and ask questions later especially when its not your money you’re doling out.

The state Department of Justice so far this year has filed 10 criminal cases against fraud rings involving the illegal redemption of out-of-state containers.

Wouldn’t it be easier to deny entry into California at the agricultural inspection stations of anyone with an inordinate amount of aluminum or plastic beverage container recyclables?

That’s not the California government way. The legislature passed and the governor signed a new law last month that requires anyone bringing in more than 25 pounds of aluminum or plastic or 250 pounds of glass to “declare” at the border what their purpose is and the source and destination of the recyclables.

That’ll show the state’s serious. Here’s a news flash. Criminals will do what they do best when they commit fraud which is lie.

Why not put a real safeguard in place and ban more than 50 recyclable beverage containers from being brought into California at one time?

And what about the 2,300 privately run recycling centers that collect 5 cents for most redemption containers and 10 cents for those that were for beverages of 24 ounces or more? Only cans sold in California are eligible but they don’t ask where they are from or demand any type of proof of where they originated.

It’s just business as usual, California government style. The state legislature repeatedly rejects laws that could have a dramatic impact on reducing fraudulent copper and aluminum recycling. That has allowed the wholesale theft of copper from irrigation pumps, railroad crossing arms, street lights, and even high school bleachers to occur with virtual impunity.

The redemption fraud is a kissing cousin of the copper/aluminum fraud that state government is essentially perpetuating by not clamping down with rules that mean something.

But what do you expect when government demands no accountability while putting systems in place that make it easy for criminal types to commit fraud and fleece everyone else that follows the rules.

 

This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209-249-3519.

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