CVS naughty, not nice, with recyclable cans

CVS at 318 W El Norte Pkwy, Escondido, CA 92026/File

You know all those recycling containers situated just outside CVS store around town? Ever tossed a bottle or can in one of them, or otherwise tried to dispose of them at your local pharmacy?


The California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) today announced a $3.6 million enforcement action against CVS Health Corp. for failing to meet its obligation to redeem Californians’ deposits on recycled bottles and cans at stores throughout the state.

An investigation by CalRecycle found that 81 of the CVS Pharmacy’s 848 retail stores in California refused to redeem CRV beverage containers in store, failed to pay the required $100 a day fee for not redeeming, or failed to submit an affidavit to CalRecycle stating how they would comply with in-store redemption standards.

“Today’s action sends a message that we will hold retailers accountable for refunding consumers their nickel and dime recycling deposits,” said Jared Blumenfeld, California Secretary for Environmental Protection. “Everyone must do their part as we work to protect our environment and ensure that all Californians have convenient access to recycling.”

The action is part of the state’s broader effort to support recycling and ensure consumers have access to convenient recycling options as the recycling industry contends with changing global market conditions. State subsidies to recyclers have increased each of the last four years to cover the declining prices for scrap recyclables, resulting in $176 million in payments to recyclers in 2018.

Under California’s beverage container recycling law, retailers located in “convenience zones” that are not served by a recycling center must redeem California Redemption Value (CRV) beverage containers in store or pay a $100 a day fee.

The enforcement action seeks to recover $1.8 million in $100-a-day fees that the 81 stores had failed to pay as of October 31 and an additional $1.8 million in $100-a-day civil penalties. The action also seeks to recover CalRecycle’s administrative costs of investigating and pursuing the action.

CalRecycle filed the enforcement action against the retail chain on Dec. 5, 2019. As part of the administrative law process, CVS is entitled to an evidentiary hearing presided over by a hearing officer or administrative law judge.

“California has one of the highest recycling rates in the nation because of our shared commitment to the environment,” said CalRecycle Director Scott Smithline. “Retailers face financial consequences if they do not fulfill their legal takeback requirements. This $3.6 million action is part of our ongoing enforcement of the bottles and cans program that includes intensified inspection efforts and ongoing recycling fraud crackdowns.”

CalRecycle has increased enforcement against retailers that are obligated to redeem the recycling deposit (CRV) for beverage containers in store, resulting in an additional 2,180 inspections and prioritized enforcement on retailers with the largest number of violations and penalties owed.

Through the budget and legislative processes, the state has also allocated an additional $15 million in the past six months to support recycling centers and innovative redemption projects such as mobile redemption in areas with high rents and community resistance to recycling centers.

Since the state’s Bottle Bill was enacted in 1986, Californians have recycled nearly 400 billion beverage containers. Last year Californians recycled 18 billion beverage containers, the second highest ever, accounting for 76 percent of the 24 billion CRV beverages sold in California. The state is on track to recycle 18 billion bottles and cans in 2019.

California is one of 10 states with a deposit-refund system for beverage containers. Consumers pay an extra 5 cents for bottles up to 24 ounces and 10 cents for bottles more than 24 ounces.

They’re supposed to get that money back by recycling the bottle or can once they are finished with it. But Consumer Watchdog said more consumers are throwing them away because they can’t find a convenient recycling location.

More than half the state’s recycling centers have closed in the last five years, according to an analysis of state data by the Container Recycling Institute, though CalRecycle says about 1,200 remain.

State subsidies to recyclers have increased each of the last four years, including $176 million last year. It’s devoting another $15 million this year to aid recycling centers and spur projects like using mobile redemption centers in areas with high rents and community opposition to permanent recycling centers.

CalRecycle Director Scott Smithline, who is retiring at year’s end, said the fine is part of agency actions that includes intensified inspections. Klug, the department spokesman, said that has included 2,180 inspections since August, with a priority on retailers who have had the largest number of violations and penalties owed.

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