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Press Release: SF Launches New Recycling Program

From the SF Department of the Environment:

SAN FRANCISCO LAUNCHES NEW PROGRAM TO CONVENIENTLY REDEEM AND RECYCLE BOTTLES AND CANS

The innovative program will help residents retrieve their five to 10 cents recycling deposit while eliminating financial and logistical burdens on small businesses 

San Francisco, CA — Mayor London N. Breed and the San Francisco Department of the Environment today announced the launch of a new, citywide mobile recycling program that will make it easier for residents to recycle bottles and cans and reclaim their California Redemption Value (CRV) cash deposit. Called BottleBank, the new program is entirely funded by CalRecycle and developed locally in partnership with non-profit organizations, community members and stakeholders. Residents can conveniently register to enroll into the program online or in-person, and can pick up specially-barcoded bags from more than 35 participating locations. Full service of the program will launch Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022 at two separate locations in the City to start.

“Our city is home to a number of unique and first-of-its-kind zero-waste programs, including our citywide composting program, and now, our mobile BottleBank recycling program,” said Breed. “Starting in January, San Franciscans will have an easy, reliable way to earn cash for recycling their bottles and cans, and our small businesses no longer have to worry about redeeming the bottles themselves or paying hefty state fines. It’s a win-win program that other cities across the state can model.”

How the BottleBank Works

San Francisco is launching a State-authorized and funded pilot program that relies on technology and homegrown ingenuity to make it easy for residents to get their CRV cash deposit back by redeeming and recycling uncrushed CRV-eligible bottles at mobile drop-off sites throughout the City.

Residents can participate in the program in multiple ways: by downloading the BottleBank app on a smartphone through the Apple and Android stores and setting up an account; by filling out an electronic account sign-up form on the sfbottlebank.org website; or by using a kiosk at one of the mobile drop-off sites and getting an access card.

Once signed up, participants fill a barcoded 20-gallon bag with uncrushed CRV bottles and cans and drop them off at a mobile collection site that is operated and staffed by the San Francisco Conservation Corps. The containers in each bag are counted and then a refund amount is deposited into the participant’s account. Participants can then transfer those funds to their bank or Venmo accounts via the smartphone app. Alternatively, participants can link their account to an access card and redeem cash directly to avoid electronic banking accounts or use of a smartphone. For a limited time, a two-pack of the CRV redemption bags will be free to participants when they sign up. Bags can be picked up at mobile drop-off locations and at select retailers listed on the website and mobile app, including most San Francisco Safeway, Trader Joe’s, Rainbow Grocery, Lucky Supermarket, and Whole Foods locations. Mobile sites will rely on trucks to collect the bags at multiple locations across the City according to a set schedule.  

“CalRecycle is looking forward to the rollout of the San Francisco’s pilot program’s second, mobile redemption phase launching in the New Year that we hope will expand much-needed redemption opportunities for San Francisco residents,” said CalRecycle Director Rachel Machi Wagoner.

The program launches on Wednesday, January 5, 2022, with locations at the Stonestown Galleria Parking Lot and Van Ness and Division. Located at 501 Buckingham Way, the Stonestown site will be open Monday to Saturday from 9 a.m.– 1 p.m. The Van Ness and Division site, located at 250 13th St., will be open Mondays to Fridays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The list of mobile drop-off sites and their schedule will be updated regularly online and on the app. 

Background and History

Under the 1986 California Beverage Container Recycling and Litter Act, also known as the Bottle Bill, consumers pay a five to 10 cent California Redemption Value (CRV) deposit each time they purchase beverages in a bottle or can. Consumers can then redeem bottles and cans for their CRV at recycling centers throughout the State. The Bottle Bill also requires that any beverage dealer, including supermarkets and smaller neighborhood grocers, not within one half-mile of a recycling center, redeem empty bottles and cans in-store for consumers or pay a $100-per-day in-lieu fee (nearly $40,000 a year).

In San Francisco, like many other cities, these half-mile convenience zones surrounding recycling centers have all but disappeared due to market conditions and other factors, making it challenging for consumers to conveniently get their deposit back. This leaves over 600 beverage dealers in San Francisco outside of any convenience zone established under the Bottle Bill, and therefore subject to the requirement to either redeem containers or pay a daily fine. The large majority of these stores are small businesses which are often unable to pay the fee or otherwise forced to accept any and all recyclables. This has been especially challenging during the COVID-19 pandemic as many small businesses have imposed occupancy restrictions on their spaces and continue to face operational challenges.

To update and modernize the Bottle Bill to better serve consumers, State Senator Scott Wiener in 2017 authored Senate Bill 458, which now authorizes cities and counties to initiate mobile recycling programs to make up for the closures of recycling facilities. In 2019, CalRecycle started accepting applications for these programs, and later that year Assemblymember Phil Ting expanded the program through Assembly Bill 54 to earmark $5 million in state funds, ensuring several cities like San Francisco had the proper resources to successfully launch mobile recycling.

“I’m proud to see SB-458 become a reality here in San Francisco,” said Senator Scott Wiener. “Mobile recycling will allow us to continue promoting smart and effective recycling policies, while relieving a burden on small business owners that don’t have the capacity or resources to meet the one-size-fits-all obligations of state law.”

“Many communities have seen closures of recycling centers for a wide range of reasons, even though so many individuals both utilize and depend on the CRV system for cash redemption,” said Assemblymember Phil Ting, Chair of the Assembly Budget Committee. “I’m excited to see the state funds I secured help the Department of the Environment and its many partners launch the city’s first mobile recycling program. This forward-thinking approach will better serve those who have been redeeming bottles and cans for years, while also providing a more accessible path for new users and consumers into the program.”

Today, the BottleBank program effectively relieves businesses of their collection obligations and financial penalties because there is now an operating, viable alternative for participants to recycle and redeem. The CalRecycle-funded BottleBank program was designed and developed by the San Francisco Department of the Environment, Our Planet Recycling, the San Francisco Conservation Corps, and the Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative with support from the SF Grocer’s Alliance, Arab-American Grocer’s Association and many local small businesses.

“New, creative programs like the BottleBank make it easier and more convenient for our city to achieve its environmental commitments while at the same time ensuring that everyone has equal access to their CRV deposits,” said Debbie Raphael, Director of the Department of the Environment. “The new BottleBank program is also a great way for families and students to promote better recycling habits and earn cash back into their pockets. We’re looking forward to a successful year ahead under this new initiative and seeing similar programs soon flourish across the state.” 

“For years, San Francisco’s small retailers, neighborhood markets, and local grocers have been at the forefront of bringing the city into compliance with state recycling laws, yet heavily burdened by the Bottle Bill fees placed on them due to the lack of recycling centers left in the city,” said Miriam Zouzounis, Owner of Ted’s Market and Vice President of the Small Business Commission. “We applaud the state and city for putting into place a mechanism that allows residents to recycle and redeem more easily while allowing small businesses to focus on their operations and continue to thrive.”

For more information on the BottleBank program or to register a new account, please visit www.sfbottlebank.org.

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