Fresno City Council members say they’ve received complaints for years from residents and businesses about recycling centers operating from shipping containers in shopping center parking lots, providing a few cents in cash for each can or bottle that people bring in for redemption.
On Thursday, the council approved a new ordinance to seriously restrict how and where such recyclers – called CRV (California Redemption Value) recycling centers – can operate. The 7-0 vote is the first step toward final approval, most likely in two weeks. The law, sponsored by Councilmen Paul Caprioglio and Oliver Baines, would take effect 30 days after a final vote.
Once that happens, the law will effectively put 16 of Fresno’s 22 CRV recycling centers out of business within six months to a year. The centers are where people can get back the nickel that grocers charge for every can or bottle of soft drink, beer or other beverages that carries a California Redemption Value stamp.
The law will put the onus on grocery stores that sell more than $2 million worth of merchandise yearly to accept recycled cans and bottles inside their businesses or face a $100 per day fine as mandated by the state’s recycling laws.
Caprioglio said he’s been working on the legislation for two years because he and other council members regularly field complaints from businesses and residents about recycling centers attracting homeless people and drug addicts into their neighborhoods.
“Vagrants and transients often exchange cans for cash, and a lot of times they use that money to buy drugs. They loiter in the area, creating a public nuisance and neighborhood blight,” Caprioglio said. “The purpose (of the ordinance) is to remove CRV centers in order to restore safety, comfort and quality of life for Fresno residents, students and business owners in surrounding areas.”
As he showed photographs to his council colleagues of several parking-lot recycling centers, Caprioglio pointed out the unsightliness: “I see debris, I see a mess, and that’s what our neighbors and businesses see every day.”
Caprioglio added that the strength of Fresno’s curbside recycling program, in which residents put their cans, bottles and other recyclable goods into blue bins on trash-collection days, suggests that the city has less need for CRV recyclers to dispense cash for cans and bottles.
But several recycling center operators and grocery store owners addressed the council to urge them to reject the law. Recyclers said they provide a service to people who need the cash they get from returning cans and bottles for everyday necessities such as food, milk or diapers.
“A lot of my customers are are low-income people who can’t afford to just throw their recyclables away,” said Francisco Rincon, who manages several recycling centers. “Most of the people in the north can afford to just put their recyclables in the blue bin. … But closing everybody is not the right approach.”
Susan Collins, representing the nonprofit Container Recycling Institute, said the 22 CRV centers in Fresno have thousands of customers each, and estimated that the redemption value paid out for cans and bottles in Fresno could amount to as much as “$15 million a year back into the pockets of citizens of the city.”
“Curbside recycling is not the same as redemption,” she added. “Redemption is where consumers get their money back.”
Grocery store owners and managers also asked for a delay in the ordinance to figure out another way to work on the blight problems. Several said they can’t deal with the prospect of having people bringing bags of dirty cans and bottles to their checkout counters or to their grocery storage areas for an employee to count out cans and pay the redemption value. And if they can’t accommodate the recycling inside their stores, they would face those $100-per-day fines – or $36,500 a year.
“It’s not reasonable or possible to pay these fines,” said Matt Lockett, owner of the Grocery Outlet store on Tulare Street in downtown Fresno. “In-store take-back threatens employee health. I can’t have people bringing in bags of cans dripping juice to the counters or to the front door,” he said.
Councilman Steve Brandau joined other council members in expressing sympathy for the position of grocers and recyclers. But, he added, he believes some of the recyclables going to the CRV centers come from homeless people taking cans and bottles from the bins in front of residents’ homes.
“On trash day, we have a bunch of people who look like cast members from ‘The Walking Dead’ ” pulling recyclables from blue bins, Brandau said. “I see this stuff plain as day, and it’s ruining all our lives.”
CRV recyclers who operate from temporary structures have six months to comply with the new ordinance. Those with permanent structures will have a year.
Caprioglio and Mayor Lee Brand, who supports the ordinance, said they understand it will be a bother for grocers to handle recyclables inside their stores. But that, they added, reflects flaws in the state law that requires them to provide a way for residents to redeem cans and bottles for cash. Their larger concern is for residents and businesses affected by the blight from homeless people who frequent the recycling centers.
“This will be another tool in how we deal with the homeless problem in the city,” Brand said.