California residents will soon have to pay an extra fee for wine and liquor bottles as officials approve tough measures

Josue Torres
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Wine and liquor consumers in California will soon have to pay an additional fee when purchasing an adult beverage at the shop. The purpose of the extra fee is to make people recycle the bottles, so they may be able to receive their money back if they do so.

Legislators have suggested expanding the state’s bottle-deposit recycling scheme to include liquor and wine containers. Currently, customers must contribute a cent or dime each time they purchase a bottle of beer or a can of soda.

The state has been running a bottle recycling program since the late 1980s. But for a long time, wine and distilled spirits have been prohibited, mostly as a result of resistance from strong industrial organizations.

An initiative to broaden the program to cover wine and spirit bottles has now gained traction at the state Capitol this year after years of fruitless attempts, partly because wine and liquor producers have altered their stance.

Toni Atkins, the Senate’s acting president pro tem, is the sponsor of SB1013, which would mandate the same deposit be paid by consumers for all alcoholic drinks beginning January 1, 2023. It would include hard liquor and wine sold in glass, plastic, aluminum, and box containers.

The bill’s proponents state that fewer than one-third of wine and liquor bottles in the state are recycled, and as a result, hundreds of millions of bottles end up in landfills every year. According to the advocacy group Container Recycling Institute, Californians generally purchase around 1.3 billion wine and liquor bottles annually.

Wine and spirit producers being subject to the same regulations as other beverage firms is considered by many as a matter of fairness, according to Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, who claimed that the bill had received solid support in the Legislature.

Wine and spirit industries support the plan this year, according to Dodd, who worked with local wineries on the matter. This is because they want access to more clean, recycled glass, which will allow them to minimize the amount of greenhouse gas emissions they produce.

The industry’s position has undergone a significant change after decades of consistently opposing legislation that would have included wine and spirit bottles in the bottle-deposit scheme, mostly due to economic considerations.

The law may also contribute to preserving the state’s bottle recycling program since because of the mass closure of recycling centers around the state, the program has been in a downward spiral for years.

SB1013 received full, nonpartisan approval in the Senate and now has to be adopted by the state Assembly. Despite the bill’s broad support, some recycling activists are worried about it because they allege that the state currently doesn’t give customers a simple method to get their bottle deposits back.

The bottle deposit scheme in California is barely holding on. In the past five years, a large number of recycling centers have shut down due to causes including worldwide turmoil in the recycling business and rising operating expenses. These facilities allow customers to exchange empty bottles and cans for their deposit money.

Currently, only approximately 68 percent of bottles and cans purchased in California are recycled, down from over 85 percent in 2013, when the program was at its most successful. Today, the state has 1,258 recycling facilities, compared to around 2,500 a decade ago.

Customers would be required to pay a deposit of 10 cents for wine and liquor bottles larger than 24 ounces and 5 cents for smaller containers under 24 ounces under the proposed legislation. Most customers would pay the dime deposit because wine bottles and fifths of alcohol generally contain 25.4 ounces.

Legislators have argued that including wine and distilled spirits in the program might bring in more money for CalRecycle, the state’s recycling organization, to support the opening of more redemption centers.

According to a legislative analysis of SB1310, it might provide an annual surplus in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Since fewer people are returning their nickel and dime deposits thanks to the state’s declining recycling rate, the bottle deposit program already has a $635 million surplus.

Officials have already suggested using $330 million of that excess for initiatives to increase recycling and establish more redemption centers. The specifics are still being discussed.

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