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RePlanet closes redemption recycling centers throughout California, leaving cities without adequate services
By Cari Hachmann
This month signaled the closure of several hundred redemption recycling centers throughout California, leaving residents and businesses who relied on the centers without services. Now more than ever, people may need to start rethinking how and what they recycle, especially when it comes to plastic.
California’s largest redemption recycling operator—rePlanet—has shut down its remaining 284 locations and laid off 750 employees, including its San Clemente, Dana Point and San Juan Capistrano operations.
RePlanet announced the news on August 7, citing in a press release that the company closed due to the continued reduction in state fees, the depressed pricing of recycled aluminum and Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic, and the rise of operating costs resulting from minimum-wage increases and required health and workers compensation insurance.
“The Company has concluded that operation of recycling centers and supporting operations is no longer sustainable,” rePlanet said in its press release.
RePlanet emphasized that it was with great sadness that it will be closing, recommending that people contact their state legislator to advocate for better recycling initiatives and improved legislation.
Established in 1984, rePlanet, which accepts California Redemption Value (CRV) bottles and cans, operated as many 600 redemption centers in the state of California during peak operations.
It closed 191 recycling centers in 2016 and laid off 300 employees, according to Recycling Today, a news and information magazine and website for recycling professionals.
According to Consumer Watchdog, a nonprofit organization that studies California’s recycling industry, about 40% of redemption centers have closed in the past five years. The closures have resulted in consumers getting back only about half of their nickel and dime deposits on bottles and cans, according to the organization.
Impact on San Clemente
RePlanet’s closures in San Clemente included centers at 993 Avenida Pico on the west side of Office Depot, behind the Albertsons at 804 E. Avenida Pico and behind the Ralphs at 638 Camino De Los Mares.
Danna McIntosh, environmental services coordinator for the city of San Clemente, said the closures have created a problem in South Orange County, leaving many consumers with limited options to receive funds on their CRV bottles and cans.
“Consumers who want to redeem their CRV bottles and cans must now travel to other cities to do so, which is very inconvenient,” said McIntosh.
In 2018, San Clemente’s three rePlanet recycling centers diverted 1,444.36 tons of materials from reaching the landfill. The breakdown of materials included approximately 195,000 pounds of aluminum, 2,109,000 pounds of glass (mixed, amber, flint and green), 450,000 pounds of (PET) #1 plastic, 134,000 pounds of (HDPE) #2 plastic, 804 pounds of other plastic and 385 pounds of bimetal, the city reports.
In an area stretching from Lake Forest to San Clemente, there is now only one recycling center to serve all of South Orange County, according to city staff.
In response to the flood of phone calls of people asking where they can take their recyclables for redemption, the city’s staff said they’ve been directing the public to the State Division of Recycling (CalRecycle), so people can find their nearest recycling locations.
Type in your zip code on CalReycle’s website, calreycle.ca.gov, to find your nearest recycling center. For questions, call 916.324.8598. For complaints about retailers or recycling centers, call 1-800-RECYCLE.
Business Affected by Closures
Many local stores and retailers that sell CRV bottles and cans relied on the rePlanet recycling centers to redeem the materials.
“Current retailers are not equipped to handle the demand of redeeming the quantity of materials that the public will bring to them for redemption,” said McIntosh.
The city of San Clemente said these retailers will have until about mid-October to set up a program to accept and redeem CRV bottles and cans or face fines of $100 daily. Once new San Clemente recycling centers are available to accept CRV materials, the locations will be posted on the city’s website.
Damion Hickman and his 10-year-old son, Ryan, are the owners of Ryan’s Recycling in San Juan Capistrano.
Hickman said it was his son’s idea and passion for recycling that led Ryan to start his own recycling pick-up service in 2012. The business gained national notoriety in 2016, when Ryan’s story was picked up by news outlets around the country and the boy appeared on Ellen DeGeneres’ TV show, among others.
Today, Ryan has customers all over Orange County, and his father helps drive him to different locations to both pick up and drop off recyclables. While the two are used to lots of driving, Damion Hickman said it was super convenient that they lived within two miles of four separate rePlanet locations.
“With rePlanet going out of business, it was definitely a big inconvenience to us,” Hickman said. “We’ve had to look at alternative ways to recycle. The last couple of loads, we’ve taken to Orange County Recycling, which is in Santa Ana—a little bit farther of a drive.”
Ryan and his dad have recycled nearly 600,000 cans and bottles with all of the earnings they make going into the boy’s college savings account.
Hickman said that despite the rePlanet closures, Ryan intends to continue working his business. For more information, visit ryansrecycling.com.
“It’s a big deal to him, and he’s going to keep going no matter what,” Ryan’s father said.
Hickman said he hopes the closures will open the doors for another company to come in and fill the void left in the recycling world and help make it easier for people to recycle.
“Every town needs a place to recycle,” he said. “If we make it easier for everybody, then the better it will be for the environment.”
However, Hickman drew some concern that rePlanet’s closures may lead people to recycle less and resort to throwing away their bottles and cans.
What Can People Do?
According to the city, San Clemente residents recycled more than 13,240 tons of material during 2018, which included aluminum, glass, plastics, bimetal cans, newspaper and cardboard, the city reports.
All materials collected from the curbside (CR&R) carts go directly to the Material Recovery Facility in Stanton, a city in western Orange County, for sorting.
The recyclable material is then prepared for shipment to companies that recycle the material into new products, according to the city’s environmental staff.
While residents have been able to rely on curbside pick-up, media outlets report that California’s recycling industry is struggling to survive after China banned imports of plastic and other scrap material.
Experts say consumers will need to change their purchase practices to avoid excess waste and plastics ending up in landfills or worse, the ocean.
The city’s environmental staff said it is important to remember the phrase “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.”
“Reducing the amount of things you buy in the first place is better than recycling,” said Danna McIntosh, the city’s environmental services coordinator. “Think before you buy—do I really need this item? If the answer is no, then don’t buy it,” she said.
Avoid buying things packaged in single-use items, such as water bottles. Carry your own reusable water bottle and refill at home or refill from a drinking fountain.
McIntosh said it is best to purchase items packaged in glass, aluminum, tin/bimetal cans and No.1 and No. 2 plastic, and avoid items packaged in plastic Nos. 3-7, which are less likely to be recyclable.
Recyclable plastic is usually labeled with a resin identification code or a number (1 –7) on the bottom of the product that is used to help recycling plants sort materials.
Avoid items packaged in multiple layers such as disposable coffee cups that are both paper and plastic and are not recyclable. Bring a reusable coffee mug to your favorite coffee shop.
Of course, people still have the option to place their CRV recyclables in their blue curbside recycling cart despite not receiving reimbursement.