Many of San Francisco’s recycling centers have closed over the past decade, forcing small businesses to shoulder the burden of accepting bottles and cans. (Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner file photo)

SF fails to secure $3M in state funds for mobile recycling pilot

Shutdown of centers has left city without enough places to return bottles and cans

The City has failed to secure $3 million in state funding that the Department of the Environment was counting on to launch a mobile recycling program, the San Francisco Examiner has learned.

The mobile recycling program is The City’s response to the closures of many recycling centers in San Francisco, including those at large grocery stores and the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council’s recycling center in Golden Gate Park.

While the recycling centers were closed largely due to complaints from neighbors, their absence has an impact on merchants. Under California’s 1986 Beverage Container Recycling and Litter Reduction Act, or Bottle Bill, if there is not an adequate supply of recycling centers then small businesses who sell redeemable bottles and cans have to step up to accept and redeem them. They face fines if they do not.

To get out of the requirement, stores can pay $100 a day, but for many corner stores that’s a fee they can’t afford. Larger grocers, however, are able to absorb that cost.

State Sen. Scott Wiener, who supported the closure of the Market Street Safeway’s recycling center when he was a member of the Board of Supervisors, passed a state bill in October 2017, Senate Bill 458, that allows innovative recycling programs, such as mobile services, to adequately serve the areas and relieve small businesses of the requirement.

Under the bill, San Francisco has until January 2020 to submit an application for the pilot program to CalRecycle for approval. The City has yet to apply. An approved pilot could operate until January 2022, but the state legislature could extend the program if it’s deemed successful.

To fund the pilot, The City sought $3 million this year from the state’s Beverage Container Recycling Fund. The money would have paid for such things as trucks and kiosks, processing spaces, labor and marketing.

But The City failed to get it.

In an April 2019 letter, Wiener wrote to the Senate Budget Committee requesting the funding.

“Smaller mom-and-pop grocery and convenience stores, however, are usually unable to pay the fee and therefore must spend limited time and resources accepting and processing large numbers of used bottles and cans on-site,” Wiener wrote in the letter. “Thus, a variety of small grocers are forced to serve as the local recycling center, while consumers are not guaranteed a convenient location near their homes as intended in the original Bottle Bill.”

In making his argument for the funding, Wiener argued in the letter that the Beverage Container Recycling Fund “has collected a sizable amount of money from ‘in lieu’ fees paid by San Francisco beverage dealers” and that “many consumers have been forced to throw away their used cans and bottles, ‘leaving’ those unredeemed CRV funds in the BRCF rather than returning value to the local economy as originally intended.”

Wiener explained that the pilot program bill “was to open and test nontraditional recycling centers as quickly as possible, given the impossibility of siting any new conventional recycling centers in San Francisco or similar jurisdictions amidst sky-high real estate values and declining scrap prices.”

On Monday, Wiener said that “we were disappointed that the request didn’t get funded,” but that he remained “committed to ensuring the success of San Francisco’s program, including future budget requests.”

Despite the funding setback, Charles Sheehan, spokesperson with the San Francisco Department of the Environment, said they have identified possibly $700,000 in funds, which includes a grant they plan to apply for with CalRecycle, and will submit an application for the pilot.

“We will be submitting the application shortly,” Sheehan said.

But without additional funding, the pilot apparently will be limited.

“Additional funding would allow us to launch a more comprehensive program, with a citywide reach, that would increase recycling, alleviate the burden on small businesses, and allow us to meet our goals,” Sheehan said. “We are looking at other ways for the state to return Beverage Container Recycling Funds back to San Francisco to help us set up a robust pilot.”

“We believe that money should come back to San Francisco to help consumers recycle,” Sheehan added.

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