CRV Part 1: Good Intentions

This is part one of a two-part examination of the recent controversy surrounding the CRV.


I don’t drink much soda. I grew up in a neighborhood full of former hippies who, whenever I would reached for a Pepsi, suggested I try water, juice, or tea instead. So it wasn’t till recently, when I bought a small computer in California, that I noticed the “recycling fee” dangling towards the bottom of my receipt. The environmental handling fee is like the California Redemption Value (CRV) program’s fee which comes with every soft drink and other beverage container at your local grocery store that should be recycled.

Actually, there are two “CRV”s. They are often confused.

The CRV was established in 1987 as an “anti-liter” program, and it was meant to achieve a social good. It was one part of the California Beverage Container Recycling and Litter Reduction Act. The program charged manufacturers a small fee for the disposal of the containers that they manufactured, like plastic soda bottles, or aluminum cans, tins of tuna, etc. In a way, the environmental handling fee helped manufacturers to recognize that “disposable” containers often end up along the highways and river ways of the country.  The CRV fee was actually passed on from manufacturers to consumers in the price of the bottle, can, or tin, and therefore increase the amount we pay in taxes for the container.  Let’s call the CRV pool of “anti-liter” money collected by the state from these fees Fund A.

 The other CRV (California Refund Value) is what recycling centers pay for the bottles and cans that consumers collect and redeem at the centers. Recycling centers can range from machines at the supermarket where anyone can feed with leftover beer cans, to the fenced-in lots in the outskirts town where families unload the bags of glass bottles they’ve collected.  The way that the California Refund Value was meant to be used was this: a person who happened upon aluminum can or plastic bottle that had been thrown along the side of the road could take it to a recycling center and redeem its value from the state. The program allowed people who needed a little extra money to find a way to get it. It also kept the recycling rate up for a given community, and the streets liter-free. Currently, the state pays consumers $0.05 or $0.10 per container, depending on its size. Let’s call this CRV pool of money made available to recycling centers for “buying back” containers Fund B. Fund B was paid into with the money the state collected from manufacturers of recyclable containers (aka Fund A).

The program was set up so that Fund A would pay for Fund B. Not a bad idea. From the social and environmental perspective, the program would give everyone the right incentives to do the right thing: manufacturers were charged for the externality created by their products, and families were given a little revenue for redeeming the products and returning them to manufacturers for their next production cycle.

According to CalRecycle, the CRV program has facilitated the recycling of “more than 200 billion aluminum, glass, and plastic beverage containers… since the program began in 1987.”

Everyone is set up to do the right thing… Right?

One Response to “CRV Part 1: Good Intentions

  • also ill swim across the pacific on the clock with out overtime.part of the gyre is my responsiblity

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