EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been updated with additional comments from the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery.
New restrictions on cross-border recycling in California are putting up hurdles for South Tahoe Refuse & Recycling and customers who drive up in vehicles with out-of-state plates — in some cases forcing people to go elsewhere if they want any money for their materials.
The restrictions are taking effect this year and the South Lake Tahoe recycling center has seen 50 to 70 fewer customers per day, or about a 30 percent decline in traffic, because of them, said Tracy Ruger, recycling manager, and Jeanne Lear, human resources manager.
The goal of the statewide restrictions is to shore up a structurally deficient recycling fund by making it harder for people to bring materials in from other states and collect California’s recycling deposits, or California Redemption Values, which is illegal but has been happening for years.
“We’re hard pressed to put a number on it because you only know about the ones you catch, but it is going on and we have taken efforts to stem that tide,” said Mark Oldfield, communications director for the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery.
The restrictions lower daily load limits. Limits were 500 pounds for plastic and aluminum and 2,500 pounds for glass, but have been cut to 100 pounds for plastic and aluminum and 1,000 pounds for glass in an effort to create a tighter paper trail for redemption value payouts.
People importing more than 25 pounds of plastic or aluminum or 250 pounds of glass beverage containers into California now must get their materials documented at a California Department of Food and Agriculture inspection station and have a report issued for their load.
Imported loads also must now go to certified processing centers. Certified recycling centers such as South Tahoe Refuse & Recycling cannot accept any imported materials, even for scrap values, and the nearest processing center in California is in Sacramento.
“We thought we were allowed to take those and when they came up a few weeks they said no, you’re not a processor,” Ruger and Lear, of South Tahoe Refuse, said about the changes.
One provision in the new restrictions allows recycling centers to accept containers bought in California from out-of-state residents and pay redemption values for them, but only for amounts of up to $50, said Jeff Danzinger, a spokesman for California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery.
The new regulations have been difficult to explain to customers.
“It’s hard for everybody to wrap their heads around these state regulations, because it doesn’t seem to meet the basic idea of recycling. It’s wasting fuel, increasing carbon footprints. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to us either,” Ruger and Lear said. “On the bright side, we will continue to have conversations with the state on how this is working and how the regulations might be interpreted so it’s more beneficial to our customers and recycling.”