Empty wine and liquor bottles will be worth 10 cents each in California, under new recycling law
Just polished off a nice chardonnay? A glass of pinot with dinner? A mango margarita even?
You may want to hold on to those empty bottles: It won’t be long before California is paying 10 cents each for them, the same as it does for most other beverage containers.
Late Tuesday night, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law a bill that expands the state’s bottle recycling deposit program for the first time to include hundreds of millions of wine and liquor bottles.
Starting Jan. 1, 2024, shoppers will pay an extra 10 cents for a bottle of wine or hard liquor, and will get that money back if they turn the bottle in at a recycling center. If they put it in the recycling cart at the end of their driveway, their city will get the dime back from the state when it recycles the bottle.
Supporters call the new law a major advance in the state’s efforts to reduce trash.
“We’re happy and excited,” said Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste, a nonprofit group. “What isn’t recycled ends up in landfills or tossed out as litter.”
Environmental groups have pushed for the changes in the bill, SB 1013, by Sen. Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, for more than 35 years, from the time when California passed its first recycling redemption rules, known as the “bottle bill,” in the mid-1980s. But the state’s powerful wine industry always opposed being included with beer bottles, plastic juice containers and soda cans. No longer.
California has 4,200 wineries — more than double the next two states, Washington and Oregon, combined. Overall, 81% of the wine produced in America comes from California.
Every year, there are about 1.2 billion wine and liquor bottles sold in California. They can be recycled. But only about 30% are. By comparison, the recycling rate has been double that in recent years for glass bottles that are already covered under the state’s bottle bill program, and 70% for all containers covered under the program.
After the new law takes effect, if consumers end up recycling wine and liquor bottles at the same rate as other glass bottles in the bottle bill program, an additional 360 million wine and beer bottles a year would be recycled and not thrown away, according to Murray.
When shoppers buy beer, soda, juice or bottled water in California, they pay a 5-cent or 10-cent fee. Containers smaller than 24 ounces are charged 5 cents extra and those larger than 24 ounces are charged 10 cents extra.
That money, called the “CRV” or “California Redemption Value,” goes into a state fund. When people turn in empty cans and bottles to recycling centers, they are paid back the nickel or dime per container, or paid by the weight of the containers, from that fund. The idea is to encourage recycling.
A list of recycling centers is online at www2.calrecycle.ca.gov/BevContainer/RecyclingCenters
When the law was first signed by former Gov. George Deukmejian in 1986, influential interests, including the Wine Institute and E&J Gallo Winery, blocked efforts to include wine in the program. Some wine industry leaders were concerned over the aesthetics of adding the “CRV” logo to wine labels, which wineries sometimes consider as art.
Other wine industry leaders opposed the fees that beverage container manufacturers must pay under the program to help recycling centers offset their costs.
But the Wine Institute now has changed course.
Under California’s climate change rules, large manufacturing companies must buy credits for each ton of greenhouse gases they emit. Using recycled glass to make bottles instead of making new ones generates fewer greenhouse emissions, lowering the costs for major glass makers like Gallo Glass in Modesto, which run huge furnaces.
Curbside recycling where cities allow residents to dump masses of aluminum cans, newspaper, plastic and various types of glass into one big blue container also can smash glass bottles, contaminating the glass and making it harder, or impossible to recycle. But once wine bottles are able to be redeemed at recycling centers, they will be separated out, resulting in more efficient glass recycling, the Wine Institute says.
“California’s wine community and multi-generational wineries are leaders in innovation and sustainability,” said Robert Koch, president of the Wine Institute. “We concluded that California’s bottle bill program provides the most viable path to achieve our recycling goals.”
With industry opposition removed, last month the bill passed 78-0 in the state Assembly and 38-0 in the state Senate.
Some critics said that while they support the goal of increasing recycling, they don’t like that that legislators included millions in recycling incentives to glass companies in the measure.
The bill is “loaded with pork for major corporations that don’t need it,” said Liza Tucker, with Consumer Watchdog, a Los Angeles non-profit group.
Under the bill, glass companies are eligible for up to $60 million a year in incentives for the next five years, or $300 million, which will come out of the state CRV fund.
That fund currently has a $635 million surplus, in part because sales of bottled water and other products soared during COVID lockdowns, while recycling rates fell, and because the number of recycling centers in recent years has dropped, due to a variety of issues, including falling scrap prices for recycled commodities.
The new law also includes a 25-cent redemption value for wine sold in difficult-to-recycle boxes, bladders, pouches and similar plastic containers.
But you might not see the “CRV” logo right away on wine bottles, liquor bottles and other containers. Because the bottles are often produced a year or more in advance, legislators gave the industry until July, 2025 to put the CRV logo on their labels.