The national rate of recycling beverage cans and glass and plastic bottles dropped from 52 percent a decade ago to 37 percent in 2002, the most recent year for which numbers are available, according to the Container Recycling Institute, a nonprofit group that encourages producers and consumers to take more responsibility for recycling.
Possible reasons for the drop-off include consumer apathy, more consumption away from home and redemption values not climbing fast enough to keep pace with inflation, said Patricia Franklin, the institute's executive director.
In California, land of beaches, movie stars, farms, highways, and above all - hot trends - the state is out with a report on well its residents are and aren't doing when it comes to recycling bottles and cans.
According to the California Department of Conservation, the state's overall rate of recycling redeemable materials, including glass, plastic and aluminum cans, has fallen to 58 percent from 70 percent a decade ago.
The state rate of recycling bottles has fallen to 52 percent - its lowest level in 10 years. Almost half the bottles are emptied at bars and restaurants, and most contain beer, department spokesman Mark Oldfield said.
More than 1.6 billion bottles a year to go to landfills, which means Californians are throwing away $70 million in redemption value.
The redemption value in California is 4 cents for bottles that are 20 ounces or less and 8 cents for larger bottles.
"I guarantee you if the state of California put a dime deposit on every one of their containers, the rate would go way up," Franklin said. "If a yuppie pulling down $70,000 or $80,000 a year doesn't care about the dime, someone will care about the dime."
Throwing bottles away fills up landfills and also wastes energy because recycled glass can be melted down at a lower temperature than it takes to make new glass.
"We can run our furnaces at slightly lower temperatures, which over time saves a lot of energy because we're running 24-7," said Dan Steen, president of Owens-Illinois California Container, which uses recycled glass to make bottles and food containers.
The conservation department estimates that the energy wasted by sending 1.6 billion bottles to landfills would be enough to power 8,500 households annually.
California officials are working with beer companies and the restaurant industry to educate business owners that recycling can pay off in the long run.
Along with making at least 4 cents on every recycled bottle, business owners would save on trash hauling expenses, though they would take on the additional costs of recycling pickup. The estimated net gain for business would be $10 for every 1,000 bottles recycled, the department found.
Beer companies are providing promotional items related to recycling.
"If you make the opportunity available, people will recycle," Oldfield said.