State Senate passes landmark Bottle Bill reform to shift responsibility to beverage distributors

June 3, 2021

SACRAMENTO ­– The California State Senate today passed landmark legislation to reform California’s antiquated Bottle Bill and to hold beverage distributors responsible for increasing the amount of containers that are recycled. SB 38 will transform the current broken system that has resulted in plummeting recycling rates, more containers in our landfills and consumers unable to find convenient locations to redeem their bottles and cans. The bill now goes to the state Assembly.

“This is a great day for California consumers because the state Senate went on record in support of bringing our outdated recycling system into the 21st century,” said Wieckowski, a member of the Senate’s Environmental Quality Committee. “If we are serious about creating a circular economy, we must support SB 38.  Putting more Band-Aids on the status quo might make the special interests who support it and prosper from it feel good, but it will not make it more convenient for consumers to find redemption sites.  SB 38 builds on the best practices of other states and nations that have achieved higher redemption rates and greater access to sites than California. Consumers will no longer be nickel-and-dimed to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars by a failed system.”

SB 38 transitions California to a stewardship model to be created by the beverage industry under the oversight of Cal Recycle.

The bill requires distributors to form a Beverage Container Stewardship Organization by October 2022 and to submit a redemption and recycling plan to Cal Recycle by the following April. After regulations are adopted by Cal Recycle, the new beverage container stewardship program would begin no later than July 2024. 

“The time for tweaking California’s bottle bill is gone,” said Sam Pearse, campaign manager with The Story of Stuff Project. “We applaud the state Senate for passing SB 38, which is modeled on modern deposit-return systems, which are achieving outstanding recycling rates. At the core of this is ensuring customer convenience, greater financial responsibility to those selling beverages and the right targets and incentives required to ensure high performance. We have the potential to reduce billions of plastic bottles from entering landfills, incinerators, and the environment every year.”

California now ranks third to last in redemption rates among bottle deposit states, because of the insufficient number of redemption locations and consumers’ inability to redeem their deposits. Oregon, which has a stewardship model similar to the one SB 38 proposes, has a redemption rate of 86 percent and more locations to recycle, despite having just one/tenth the population of California.

“SB 38 will fix California’s broken bottle deposit law and put our redemption system in line with every other successful bottle deposit system in the state and world,” said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog. “With a 57% redemption rate for 2020, Californians forfeited more than one half billion dollars in bottle deposits and added to pollution and climate change.  SB 38 will create convenient opportunities for redemption and incentives to get consumers their bottle and can deposits back at a rate of 85% or more, like other successful bottle deposit states.”

In addition to The Story of Stuff Project and Consumer Watchdog, SB 38 is supported by Environment California, Ming’s Resource East Bay Corp., City of Pleasanton, Beyond Plastics, Eunomia, Tri-City Economic Development Corporation, Tomra, Food & Water Watch, Save Our Shores, Climate Hawks Vote, Clynk, Greenaction for Health & Environmental Justice, Humboldt Waste Management Authority, Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, Silicon Valley Democratic Club, DC Metals, and Recycling Zone Inc.

Senator Wieckowski represents the 10th Senate District, which includes parts of southern Alameda County and parts of Santa Clara County.