Abysmal recycling rates prompt ‘edgy’ campaign

The Associated Press
Friday May 25, 2001

SACRAMENTO — Californians are tossing more beer bottles and soda cans into the trash than they did a decade ago, instead of recycling them, according to a new state study. 

And most of those trendy water, sports drink, coffee and iced-tea bottles that were just added to the state’s recycling law are being discarded rather than recycled, the study found. 

To try to reverse the downward trend and convince Californians again that recycling is cool, the state’s recycling agency is launching a $10 million campaign that includes television ads showing a lowly plastic water bottle reborn as an orange buoy for a curvaceous female lifeguard. 

“We wanted to do something that was edgy, something that would get people to pay attention and at the same time something that was creative and just a bit funny,” said Mark Oldfield, spokesman for the state Department of Conservation. 

The department is releasing new recycling figures Thursday that are lower than expected, even considering the addition of a whole new group of glass and plastic bottles to the state’s 14-year-old recycling program. 

The overall recycling rate dropped from 74 percent in 1999 to 61 percent in 2000, which meant that Californians recycled 10.2 billion beverage containers and threw away six billion. Those unrecycled cans and bottles would circle the world nearly seven times, if put end-to-end, the department said. 

That 2000 rate was well below the law’s goal of 80 percent and below figures that rose as high as 82 percent in 1992. 

The department anticipated a drop in rates with the expansion of the recycling program last year to include 3.4 billion more bottles that people weren’t used to collecting and turning in. The law expanding the program therefore included the $10 million for an advertising and education program. 

However, officials did not expect such a large decrease. 

“We’re Californians. We’re supposed to know more about recycling,” says department Director Darryl Young. 

Even recycling-popular aluminum cans, which hit a high of 85 percent in 1991 and 1992, dropped to 76 percent. 

State officials say they don’t really know why recycling is down. They suspect the economy plays a part; recycling rates were highest during the recession of the early 1990s and dropped as good times returned. 

They also suspect Californian’s mobile lifestyle is a major factor. People who constantly carry around water or iced-tea drinks don’t always look for or find a recycling bin when the bottle or can is empty. 

The television and radio ads, in English and Spanish, aimed at reversing the trend start Monday in major cities around the state. 

Other TV ads show an aluminum can being kicked around, but then being transformed into a homer-hitting baseball bat and a bottle left under a couch at a party reincarnated as the glitter on a disco ball. 

The energy crisis is also providing new incentive to recycle. Making a can from recycled aluminum uses 95 percent less energy than making a new one. 

One recycled aluminum can could save enough energy to power a television for almost three hours, said Oldfield. 

He noted that 2.5 billion aluminum cans were discarded rather than recycled last year “and that’s a lot of TVs, toasters and microwaves.” 

On the Net: 

To learn about the state’s recycling program, go to: