Special Release: Op-Ed
February 25, 2003

Contact: Ed Wilson
Mark Oldfield
Don Drysdale
(916) 323-1886

The following op-ed piece was distributed to newspapers throughout California.

Californians Denied The Opportunity to Recycle
Businesses Should Provide Bins For California’s Bottles And Cans

By Darryl Young, Director
California Department of Conservation

The next time you finish a can of soda or bottle of water, look around for a recycling bin. Do you see one? Chances are, you’ll have a hard time finding it. How about the last time you were cleaning out your car at the gas station? Seeing a movie? Working out at the gym?

The fact is, most of the places that need recycling bins don’t provide them. You might want to recycle your bottle or can, but there’s simply no opportunity to do so.

Last year in California, an estimated 8 billion aluminum, glass and plastic beverage containers went to our landfills. Bottles and cans that could have saved energy and provided raw materials for things like building supplies, carpet and sweaters (which could be used to warm Californians who have turned down their heat to save energy) wound up instead taking up precious landfill space.

To put that number in perspective, take a look at those plastic water bottles that have exploded in popularity (from which you may be drinking right now.) Every day in California, 2.8 million of them wind up in our landfills. That’s about 6000 in the time it takes to read this and a total of 194 thousand yards of cubic landfill space each year…enough to cover an area 50 yards wide by one inch deep stretching the coast from San Francisco to San Luis Obispo.

The problem isn’t that Californians are choosing not to recycle. On the contrary, most people, if given the choice of sending their beverage container to a landfill or giving it new life, would choose to recycle and protect the environment. The problem is that California businesses haven’t given consumers an opportunity to do so.

What’s troubling about this is the fact that starting a recycling program is easy. With a few phone calls and some recycling bins, any business can have a program underway. In some cases, grants are even available through the State Department of Conservation to help offset the cost. In all cases, companies can get money back for the bottles and cans they collect.

The bottom line is that there is little excuse for any business to not provide consumers with a recycling bin. Indeed, a few proactive organizations in California have taken the initiative to address the problem. Organizations like the Los Angeles Dodgers, Warner Brothers and the California State Parks Association have seen how easy it is to offer recycling. Unfortunately, most businesses are still not doing their part.

So this year, we’re asking Californians to take a more active role in making convenient recycling a reality.  Simple consumer activism is one of the most powerful forces in business. When enough people got fed up with the Styrofoam packaging McDonald’s used, the company stopped using it. When people started leaving the unnecessary packaging from their CD cases at the music store because it was causing an environmental headache, the recording industry changed its packaging techniques.

How can we make a similar change? For starters, ask for recycling. Next time you’re at your local gas station or convenience mart, ask where the recycling bin is. If they don’t have one, ask them to put one in. If enough customers ask for a bin, you’ll be surprised how fast you start seeing bins pop up. Who knows, if businesses won’t give you the opportunity to recycle, maybe you should leave your bottles and cans next to the trash can until they do.

At work, if your company does not have a recycling program, ask why not, and then ask how you can start one. If they tell you it’s too difficult, have them visit www.bottlesandcans.com or call 1-800-RECYCLE to find out just how easy it really is.

Finally, follow our lead. This year, the Department of Conservation will be leading the charge by reaching out to California businesses directly and challenging them to provide their customers and employees with recycling bins. We're going to give them the resources they need to become part of the solution and are confident that with a little additional persuasion from you, good things will happen.

If any state can address the recycling problem effectively, it’s California. We already have one of the most innovative approaches to recycling in the country and are looking at ways to make the system even better in 2003. Do your part and ask for recycling. Because it’s good for the bottle, it’s good for the can. And it’s good for all of us.

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