As recycling centers close en masse throughout the city, small businesses may owe millions in fees

Neighbors complain recycling centers draw "unsavory elements" to neighborhoods, but as centers close customers burden remaining sites. Map of San Francisco courtesy of Tableau software.
Source: CalRecycle and Department of Environment

Red explosions and yellow starbursts lit the sky, accompanied by the requisite oohs and aahs.

San Franciscans sat by the beach at Aquatic Park celebrating our nation's independence, eyes fixed upwards. But all around them, a team of independent scavengers, mostly ignored, methodically combed the wharf, plucking cans and bottles from the ground and overflowing trash bins.

Often derided as thieves or parasites, these workers are cogs in a grand machine instituted by California's Bottle Bill in 1986, forming a recycling redemption economy meant to spur environmentalism with market principles.

The concept is simple. Taxpayers pay an extra five cents when they buy a can or bottle, and may redeem that nickel by trading the used can or bottle in at a recycling center. Thus, more recycling is spurred.

But now a wave of recycling center evictions is causing San Francisco's grassroots recycling economy to crumble, and newly released numbers reveal just how much stands to be lost by the trend.

San Franciscan recyclers may miss out on millions of dollars in redemption, local mom-and-pop stores could wind up on the hook for millions of dollars in state fees, and neighborhoods stand to be besieged by recyclers flocking to the few remaining recycling centers.

Recycling activists and local businesses are pushing for change, but NIMBY interests are pushing for more of the same.



San Francisco Community Recyclers is on the parking lot of Safeway's Church and Market location, and after months of legal entanglement, the recycling center's eviction draws near. Still, SFCR is making a show of resistance.

The San Francisco Sheriff's Department is set to evict the recycling center within a week or so, as the rebel recyclers have so far refused to vacate voluntarily.

Sup. Scott Wiener says he'll be glad to see them gone.

"This recycling center caused enormous problems in our neighborhood," he told the Guardian. This particular Safeway lies within the boundaries of his district, and Wiener says his constituents complain the recycling centers draw too many unruly patrons, who are often homeless.

"There is problem behavior around the center in terms of camping and harassing behavior, defecation, urination in a much more concentrated way," he said.

This animation shows the areas around San Francisco where recycling centers remain, which are often overburdened with customers as other centers close. The red zones indicate areas where supermarkets are mandated by state law to host recycling centers, but have chosen to pay fees instead.

But others say the not-in-my-backyard evictions only serve to create a ripple effect. The catalyst is a story we've reported on before: As well-heeled Golden Gate Park neighbors complained of homeless recycling patrons and waged a successful campaign to shutter the Haight Ashbury Recycling Center two years ago, the clientele adjusted by flocking to the Church and Market recycling center. New numbers illustrate this outcome.

Susan Collins is the president of the Container Recycling Institute, a nonprofit that conducts analysis on recycling data. On average nationwide, Collins said, one recycling center serves about 2,000 people.


I don't shop at Safeway for anything and spend my dollars at Rainbow Grocery.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 08, 2014 @ 11:11 pm
Posted by Guest on Jul. 09, 2014 @ 10:50 am

Like many problems seeking a solution, this one is already solved. All you need to do is protect the community that is providing the service at no costs to the city. No studies are needed and no city funds need to be expended to solve a problem that is already solved.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 09, 2014 @ 11:38 am

Like many problems seeking a solution, this one is already solved. All you need to do is protect the community that is providing the service at no costs to the city. No studies are needed and no city funds need to be expended to solve a problem that is already solved.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 09, 2014 @ 11:40 am

So is whole foods, and other sites that do not adequately take back bottles on site.

This would be a simple fix, plastic crates with drinks, buy them and bring them back to the retailer.

the retailers should be responsible but they are not.

fine em all......

Posted by goodmaab50 on Jul. 09, 2014 @ 3:12 pm

Why would I ever need to take it anywhere? To collect five cents?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 10, 2014 @ 7:20 am

Some people don't have homes and yes, as required by law every consumer has the RIGHT to get their 5 cent deposit back.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 10, 2014 @ 12:40 pm

So we're really only talking about the homeless folks. The rest of us get ti carted away every week from outside our homes.

If that's the law then it's dumb and I see no merit in enforcing it.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2014 @ 7:28 am

Safeway, Trader Joe's, and the like charges people 5 cents per bottle but are undermining redemption facility access. So why should they be allowed to continue collecting that surcharge if they're trying to avoid paying it back to the consumer?

Posted by Peter on Jul. 10, 2014 @ 9:18 pm

The better question is why of everyone recycles at the curb why is the state still collecting that money?

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2014 @ 6:53 am

What about the hundreds of thousands of beverage containers that are consumed every day in San Francisco 'away from home'? At the office, by commuters, by tourists, at bars and restaurants? In the parks and on the beach?

Posted by Marco on Jul. 11, 2014 @ 7:40 am

"Pack it in, pack it out" is the rule when going to the wilderness. Not a bad rule to apply ourselves with the containers we use wherever we go.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2014 @ 7:45 am

I'll bet a lot of the cans and bottles that are put into blue bins are picked up early in the morning by people who then take them to the redemption centers to collect the nickel.

It sounds like some of the homeless and others who collect the can and bottles need to learn a little about acceptable behavior. Like no panhandling at the store, leave customers alone, and use the restroom instead of going like an animal. I'm sure it is a case of a few individuals ruining it for everyone else by their actions.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 11, 2014 @ 7:43 am

It's pretty interesting, talking to national environmental experts who work on this issue, apparently San Francisco is one of the few places who have a perception of CRV redemption as being only for the poor. Maybe it's because we have so many homeless, but those I talked to in other cities considered it a perfectly normal thing for everyday working class folk to do. It wasn't a "dirty poor people" thing at all. They were all mystified at SF's focus on can and bottle redemption as a facet of poverty, not normalcy.

And if you actually read the darn article, you'll see numbers cited that show states with high CRV redemption recycle more than states without it. The blue bin, the numbers show, is simply not that effective.

Posted by JFR on Jul. 11, 2014 @ 6:50 pm

My friends and family who have moved here think it's very strange that every grocery store doesn't have the option to collect cans and bottles and, in return, refund our deposit. We actually think it's a conspiracy by the state of California to avoid refunds and use the deposit money as another source of revenue. In upstate NY, it was perfectly normal to go to the local Wegmans in Ithaca to return cans and bottles to get dollars back. Every store in NY in the area had the capability to accept recyclables automatically and refund money. As usual, SF is different. And not in a good way :(

Posted by cacanuck on Jul. 17, 2014 @ 6:26 am

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