Recycling Fraud An Ongoing Issue For California, States With Deposit Laws



California has a deposit law to get people to recycle that works something like this: Consumers pay a deposit of 5 or 10 cents when they buy a beverage.

They then get that money back when they recycle the empty containers. It’s also called California Redemption Value - or CRV.  

People trying to scam that system who don't live in California, however, has been an ongoing problem. 

In one bust this summer, eight people were arrested trying to smuggle empty beverage containers from Arizona and Nevada to get that CRV money. The cans and bottles would have netted some $82,000 in California.  

“All the states bordering a state that has a deposit law have been dealing with smuggling of cans and bottles over the border since they enacted the law,” Tara Nordstrom Pike, the sustainability coordinator for the Rebel Recycling Program at UNLV, told State of Nevada.

Pike said the problem is when you buy a can of soda or a bottle of beer in California you are paying a little extra, which goes into the deposit program account essentially.

So, when you bring that bottle or can back to be recycled, you get that money back.

“If you’re buying bottles in Nevada or Arizona, you are obviously not paying the 5 cents and the 5 cents is not going into the account for the payback,” she said. “You’re basically defrauding the state you’re smuggling the cans into.”

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Pike said people do this all the time and may not even know that what they're doing is illegal.

“I don’t think they look for the small carload of stuff because I’m pretty sure a lot of people don’t know that this is even illegal and they do it,” she said.

She said California authorities are really on the lookout for groups or networks of people who are taking truckloads of bottles and cans across the stateline. 

Those groups of people actually pay homeless people to pick up cans and bottles, which Pike says is a good thing both for homeless people to make some money and to keep recyclables out of the landfill. 

And the money can be good, according to one recycling center KNPR News contacted, they pay 30 cents a pound for aluminum cans and nothing for plastic.

But Pike said recycling scammers can pay as much as $1 per pound for aluminum and 25 cents for plastic. 

“It makes it really worth it for the homeless people,” she said.

When the recyclers take them off across the border, they're making 5 cents per piece of recycling. 


Pike said the best solution is a federal deposit law that would incentivize recycling and make it pointless to take recyclables to another state. But she thinks it is unlikely because most people don't really think about recycling and how it works or doesn't work.


Tara Pike, recycling manager and sustainability coordinator, UNLV Rebel Recycling program 

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