Why does California's CRV tax require each individual to pay five or ten cents for each plastic or aluminum container bought in markets?

Hey, Matt:

I am interested in the rip-off scams our local and federal governments use to line their secret account pockets with millions by skimming nickels and dimes from American citizens. WE DO NOTICE! California's CRV tax requires each individual to pay five or ten cents for each plastic or aluminum container bought in markets. But the rate of return is not determined by the CRV tax but by the price per pound each recycling station lists as the going rate for aluminum, plastic, and bottles. For instance, 24 aluminum cans (one pound) bought in a market. The consumer pays a total of $1.20 at 5 cents per can. The cans are then recycled at a station paying 98 cents a pound for aluminum. WE, THE CONSUMERS, ARE RIPPED OFF 22 CENTS FOR EVERY 24 CANS WE PURCHASE! Etc., etc....

-- Nickeled and Dimed to Death in San Diego

If I make a few corrections to your math but in return I give you a new thing to rant about, would you consider that a fair trade? I hope so. Don't want you picketing Alice World Headquarters.

The state legislature sets the amount of CRV you pay at the store. For all eligible containers 12 ounces and smaller, you pay 2.5 cents per container; 24 ounces and larger, you pay 5 cents. There's no CRV cost greater than 5 cents.

The amount of money you receive from the recycler is also set by the legislature and, as you noted, is calculated by the pound, no matter what size the container is. To make sure you get back your deposit, the state sets a minimum amount that you must be paid per pound. The minimum rate today for CRV aluminum is 76 cents. The state calculates that there are an average of 30.4 12-ounce cans in a pound (30.4 X 2.5 cents = 76 cents).

The reality is that recycling centers pay much more than the state minimum. CRV aluminum prices have dropped lately, but most centers today redeem it at about 90 cents a pound. They base their rates on how much they get when they resell your cans to an aluminum processor. So it's true, the consumer is a middleman in a sort of paradigm shift. When we buy the can, we're dealing with a flat cost per item. When we sell it, we're dealing with commodity prices set on large quantities of cans. But most of the time, your actual return should be greater than what the CRV cost you.

To test your numbers, we sat the elves down and had them empty some 12- and 24-ounce CRV aluminum cans. (The 24-ouncers are tall beers, mostly.) Once they got over the belching and staggering and trips to the bathroom, we sent them off to the post office to use those nifty postal scales that can even detect a particularly heavy application of saliva to an envelope flap. Our results: 31 12-ounce cans weighed 15.6 ounces; 11 24-ounce cans weighed 16.8 ounces. Redemption value of each batch would be roughly 90 cents. The 12-ouncers had cost us 75 cents in CRV charges; the 24-ouncers cost us 55 cents. Proving, among other things, that with a little start-up capital, you can make a profit by sitting around drinking beer.

Not sure how you calculated 24 aluminum cans to a pound, but if you still believe you're being ripped off by the system, then try this. Bring your cans in for recycling a few at a time. By law a state-certified recycling center has to pay you the appropriate CRV price on a per-can basis if you bring in 50 cans or fewer. More than 50, they'll only do it by weight.

But I promised you a new gripe in exchange. Do you realize that you pay state sales tax on the CRV when you buy the product? The state Board of Equalization (da tax man) considers the CRV not a tax or a deposit but a cost of doing business -- a cost of handling and processing. As such, it's taxable. More questions? Irate phone calls? Hey, don't bother us. We're trying to sober up the elves. Dial Sacramento: 1-800-RECYCLE.

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