Californians Are Downing Too Many Beers Without Recycling Bottles

Californians have a drinking problem: New research says they're downing too many beers without recycling the bottles.

LOS ANGELES — Californians have a drinking problem: New research says they're downing too many beers without recycling the bottles.

More than 1.6 billion bottles a year to go to landfills, which means Californians are throwing away $70 million in redemption value, according to findings to be released Thursday by the California Department of Conservation.

The state rate of recycling bottles has fallen to 52 percent, its lowest level in 10 years. Almost half the bottles are emptied at bars and restaurants, and most contain beer, department spokesman Mark Oldfield said.

The energy wasted by sending 1.6 billion bottles to landfills would be enough to power 8,500 households annually, according to the conservation department.

California's overall rate of recycling redeemable materials, including glass, plastic, and aluminum cans, has fallen to 58 percent from 70 percent a decade ago.

The national rate dropped from 52 percent a decade ago to 37 percent in 2002, the most recent year for which numbers are available, according to the Container Recycling Institute, a nonprofit group that encourages producers and consumers to take more responsibility for recycling.

Possible reasons for the drop-off include consumer apathy, more consumption away from home, and redemption values not climbing fast enough to keep pace with inflation, said Patricia Franklin, the institute's executive director.

In California, the state redemption value is 4 cents for bottles that are 20 ounces or less and 8 cents for larger bottles.

"I guarantee you if the state of California put a dime deposit on every one of their containers, the rate would go way up," Franklin said. "If a yuppie pulling down $70,000 or $80,000 a year doesn't care about the dime, someone will care about the dime."

Throwing bottles away fills up landfills and also wastes energy because recycled glass can be melted down at a lower temperature than it takes to make new glass.

"We can run our furnaces at slightly lower temperatures, which over time saves a lot of energy because we're running 24-7," said Dan Steen, president of Owens-Illinois California Container, which uses recycled glass to make bottles and food containers.

California officials are working with beer companies and the restaurant industry to show business owners that recycling can pay off in the long run. In addition, beer companies are providing promotional items related to recycling.

"If you make the opportunity available, people will recycle," Oldfield said.

Along with making at least 4 cents on every recycled bottle, business owners would save trash hauling expenses, though they would take on the additional costs of recycling pickup. The estimated net gain for business would be $10 for every 1,000 bottles recycled, the department found.

Source: Associated Press