TWENTYNINE PALMS — Declines in state fees and the recycling market will leave residents here with one less place to take their recycling.
The company rePlanet, which ran recycling facilities outside the Stater Bros. markets here and in Yucca Valley, closed all of its 284 centers and fired its entire workforce Monday, Aug. 5, according to a statement issued by the company.
The only recycling center open in the Morongo Basin is Venture Recycling Group at 7308 Hopi Trail in Yucca Valley. For information, call (760) 228-0808.
The corporation blamed the dwindling international market for recyclable trash and state raises in minimum wage and insurance requirements.
“With the continued reduction in state fees, the depressed pricing of recycled aluminum and PET plastic and the rise in operating costs resulting from minimum wage increases and required health and workers compensation insurance, the company has concluded that operation of these recycling centers and supporting operations is no longer sustainable,” the statement reads.
“We regret that these site closures will negatively impact our employees, grocer partners, customers and the recycling community at large.”
Consumers in wealthier nations like the U.S. may put their plastic into recycling bins, but their countries send billions of tons of the plastic trash to Asian nations.
The international market for plastic trash began to tank in 2018 when China, which previously took 45 percent of the world’s plastic waste imports, stopped taking any.
Since then, payments to recycling companies in the U.S. have dipped.
Consumer Watchdog, a nonprofit that studies recycling in California, warns there are serious problems with the state’s recycling industry.
In the last five years, more than 40 percent of all redemption centers have closed, Consumer Watchdog said.
Because of that, Californians only get about half of their bottle and can deposits back each year, despite paying $1.5 billion in 2018.
In the wake of rePlanet’s shutdown, Consumer Watchdog called for the state to immediately require every grocery and convenience store chain to begin redeeming bottles and cans.
“We warned just months ago that the bottle deposit program was in crisis and today’s closure shows consumers are being left in the lurch by the failure of the state to keep recycling centers open,” said consumer advocate Liza Tucker.
Consumer Watchdog and the Container Recycling Institute both say the state severely underpays redemption centers in the face of plummeting prices for aluminum and plastic.
One major reason for the closures is that the formula for calculating state payments to centers is fatally flawed, said Tucker.
The state recycling regulator, CalRecycle, averages the costs to run centers across the state, but operating centers in grocery store parking lots like rePlanet did generally costs more.
“As payments shrink over time, centers fall into a death spiral and cannot afford to stay afloat in a brutal commodities market,” Consumer Watchdog said.
RePlanet had other problems. A truck driver, Salvador Garcia, 61, was crushed to death by an earth mover at the company’s Rancho Cucamonga plant in 2013. The company was charged with willfully violating worker safety rules.
RePlanet agreed to pay $500,000 to the victim’s family and $251,000 in fines.