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Bay Area Legislator's Bill Requiring Beverage Makers to Handle Recycling Dies

SACRAMENTO (AP) -- A California state senator on Thursday ended his effort to pass a bill requiring beverage distributors to create a new system to take back their own containers, though advocates said they will keep pushing the issue this year.

Democratic Sen. Bob Wieckowski of Fremont admitted defeat after his bill fell four votes short of the 21 it needed to clear the 40-member Senate before this week's deadline. In a statement, he called it "a setback for consumers who are looking to us to transform a broken system that is crumbling before our eyes."

He said he will instead concentrate on working with Gov. Gavin Newsom's administration to fix the state's struggling bottle and can recycling program.

It's the second time in two years that Wieckowski's proposal failed. He previously said he had the votes in the Senate, and advocates blamed intense lobbying by opponents for its defeat.

California is one of 10 states where consumers pay a 5- or 10-cent deposit on bottles and cans that they can redeem when they turn in those containers, with the goal of encouraging recycling. However, about half of California's recycling centers have closed in recent years, making it much less convenient for consumers to take containers in to be reused and get their money back.

Wieckowski wanted the state to phase in a new system similar to one that has been successful in neighboring Oregon. His bill would have required beverage makers to create their own more convenient recycling program by 2024, when wine and liquor bottles would also have been added to the program.

Newsom said in his proposed budget and repeated Wednesday that he wants to reform the recycling program this year.

"He's going to have to buck the beverage and wine industry, and I'm optimistic that his heart is in it," said Jamie Court, president of the advocacy group Consumer Watchdog that supported the bill. Court's organization projected that adding wine and liquor bottles would increase recycling proceeds by about $100 million a year.

Tim Schmelzer, legislative director for the Wine Institute representing California wineries and affiliated businesses, said there currently are so few recycling centers that adding a deposit on wine bottles "essentially amounts to a tax on consumers" because so few would redeem their money.

But Schmelzer said it might be difficult to adopt Oregon's program in California. He criticized Wieckowski for not negotiating with the industry before he released details of his bill just a month ago.

The Wine Institute is negotiating with other lawmakers on two broader bills requiring manufacturers to reduce single-use packaging by 2024 and make them recyclable or compostable. It is encouraging a greater emphasis on curbside recycling, Schmelzer said, possibly by adding a fee on every beverage container to replace the existing deposit program.

Such a fee would be "basically a trash tax," Court said. He and others said curbside programs, while convenient, have a problem with broken glass contaminating other recyclables.

California Beer & Beverage Distributors President Victoria Horton called Wieckowski's proposal "a deeply flawed concept" and in a statement advocated for "recycling program solutions that will be more inclusive of all effected parties."

William Dermody, spokesman for the American Beverage Association, said the organization representing the non-alcoholic beverage industry did not oppose or lobby against the bill.

"Our industry is open to more effective solutions that recover more of our bottles so that they can be remade into new bottles," he said.

© Copyright 2020 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed

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