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California recycling overhaul plan dies in Legislature

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SACRAMENTO — A California state senator on Thursday ended his effort to pass a bill requiring beverage distributors to create a new system to take back their own containers, though advocates said they will keep pushing the issue this year.

Democratic Sen. Bob Wieckowski of Fremont admitted defeat after his Senate Bill 372 fell four votes short of the 21 it needed to clear the 40-member Senate before this week’s deadline. In a statement, he called it “a setback for consumers who are looking to us to transform a broken system that is crumbling before our eyes.“

He said he will instead concentrate on working with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration to fix the state’s struggling bottle and can recycling program.

It’s the second time in two years that Wieckowski’s proposal failed. He previously said he had the votes in the Senate, and advocates blamed intense lobbying from the beverage and wine industries for its defeat.

California is one of 10 states where consumers pay a 5- or 10-cent deposit on bottles and cans that they can redeem when they turn in those containers, with the goal of encouraging recycling.

However, about half of California’s recycling centers have closed in recent years, making it much less convenient to take containers in to be reused and get their money back.

Wieckowski wanted the state to phase in a new system similar to one that has been successful in neighboring Oregon.

His bill would have required beverage makers to create their own more convenient recycling program by 2024, when wine and liquor bottles would also have been added to the program.

“The wine industry and the beverage industry pulled out every stop of their lobbyists, but this is a bill whose time has come,“ said Jamie Court, president of the advocacy group Consumer Watchdog that supported the bill. “This is just the first battle, not the end of the game.”

Newsom said in his budget and repeated Wednesday that he wants to reform the recycling program this year.

“He’s going to have to buck the beverage and wine industry, and I’m optimist that his heart is in it,” Court said of the Democratic governor. Court’s organization projected that adding wine and liquor bottles would increase recycling proceeds by about $100 million a year.

The Wine Institute, which represents California wineries and affiliated businesses, and California Beer & Beverage Distributors did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries and a group representing the state’s remaining neighborhood recycling centers had also opposed the bill.

William Dermody, spokesman for the American Beverage Association, said the organization representing the nonalcoholic beverage industry did not oppose or lobby against the bill.

“Our industry is open to more effective solutions that recover more of our bottles so that they can be remade into new bottles,” he said.

Wieckowski’s bill was among several pending in the Legislature this year. He also is supporting two broader bills requiring manufacturers to reduce single-use packaging by 2024 and make them recyclable or compostable.

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