Deposit Return Systems

Last modified: March 23, 2019
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California, USA
Model Beverage Container
Recycling System

By Rick Best
Sacramento, CA
Phone: 916-319-2367

Updated September 11, 2001

Beverage Container Recycling and Litter Reduction Act - AB 2020 (Margolin, 1986)

The California Bottle Bill program represents a significant departure from traditional deposit programs. Containers are redeemed at recycling centers rather than retail stores and deposits are handled through a state-managed fund rather than by bottlers. The program removes bottlers from the responsibility of managing the system and significantly reduces the overall costs of the program by eliminating the need for retailers to sort containers by brand and by allowing materials to be compacted and handled with other recyclable materials. The program has garnered the support of environmentalists, private recyclers, local governments, and retailers and minimized opposition from the beverage industry, the traditional opponent of deposit programs.

California Department of Conservation, Division of Recycling, administers the
California Beverage Container Recycling and Litter Reduction Act.

The program does not have any specified goals; however, the original law did contain a provision for increasing the deposit amount from 2.5 cents to 5 cents for any material (aluminum, glass, plastic or bimetal) which failed to reach a 65% recycling rate by June 30, 1992.

The program has achieved the following recycling rates since its inception:
1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000
Aluminum 61 64 76 85 85 84 82 80 80 80 80 80 76
Glass 35 40 57 71 72 75 73 74 69 67 63 60 54
PET Plastic 4 7 31 56 68 70 71 64 59 58 57 65 34
Bimetal 0.2 2 3 14 12 19 17 21 17 19 13 11 1
TOTAL 52 56 70 80 82 81 79 81 76 76 74 74 61

Stakeholder Responsibilities
Manufacturers Manufacturers have no responsibility for managing the program. They are only required to pay a processing fee for container types with a net cost for recycling (glass and plastic).
Distributors Distributors have no responsibility for managing the program. They are only required to handle deposits (CRV) paid by the public through retailers to the state.
State Government The California Department of Conservation administers the overall program, including handling CRV through distributors and processors, handling processing fees/payments through distributors and processors, overseeing compliance by recycling programs and addressing fraud, issuing grants to local governments and non-profits, and conducting public education and outreach.
Distributors Distributors handle deposits, processing fees and other funds paid by the state to recyclers.
Oldline recyclers are the primary handlers of deposit materials. They represent the traditional scrap recycling industries.
Zone Recyclers
Convenience zone recyclers are located in supermarket parking lots to provide a convenient opportunity to recycle when oldline recyclers do not exist.
Local agencies (or their haulers) which administer curbside recycling programs are eligible for funding through this program.
Retailers Retailers have no responsibility for managing the program, unless there is no recycling center located within the convenience zone of their store. Retailers collect CRV from consumers which is paid to distributors.


As originally drafted under AB 2020 (Margolin, 1986) the program included most carbonate beverages, including soft drinks, beer and wine coolers. The program was expanded by which added wine coolers. The program was expanded by SB 486 (Sher, 1999) expanded the program to include virtually all non-carbonated beverages, including juices, waters, and noncarbonated soft drinks. Essentially the program now includes all carbonated and noncarbonated beverages except milk, wine and liquor. The program includes all material types except aseptic juice containers.

The Department of Conservation has produced an excellent graphic [pdf][off-site] showing the flow of funds in the program.

The follow is a summary of the key fund components:

Types of Funds Method of handling in program
Deposits - California Redemption Value (CRV) CRV is paid to the state through retailers. CRV is paid out to the public through recyclers.
Processing fees/payments Processing fees are paid by manufacturers to the state. Processing payments are paid by the state to recyclers. Processing payments are based upon the net cost of recycling for each material type. (Net cost) = (average gross cost) - (average scrap value) is calculated by the state on an annual basis.
Unredeemed deposits Administration Administration of the program by the DOC is limited to $20 million annually?
Handling fees Handling fees payments to convenience zone recyclers are established at $18.5 million annually.
Supplemental curbside payments Supplemental payments to curbside programs are established at $10 million annually.
Grants to local conservation corps Grants to the nine local conservation corps (LCC) are established at $ million annually.
Grants to local governments and non-profits Grants to local governments and non-profits are established at $ million annually.
Subsidies to manufacturer processing fees Offsets to reduce the processing fees paid by manufactureres are established at .

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