Recycling Requirements Continue to Threaten Good Life Grocery

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Last November the View reported that The Good Life Grocery’s 20th Street location was facing fines of upwards of $3,100 a month for failing to comply with the California Beverage Container Recycling and Litter Reduction Act (CalRecycle).  The law, known as the “bottle bill,” and passed in 1986, aims to “…make redemption and recycling convenient to consumers,” but has left grocery stores with an expensive dilemma:  provide onsite recycling facilities for consumers or pay a penalty.

Under the act, grocery stores within CalRecycle-designated “convenience zones” must accept California Redemption Value-labeled containers from consumers or pay a fine.  Convenience zones are typically a half mile in radius, with the center being a market that grosses more than $2 million annually or is a “full-line” store selling “…dry groceries, canned goods, or non-food items and perishable items,” according to CalRecycle guidelines. Only 20 convenience zones, roughly one-third of the 58 zones in San Francisco, are served by establishments that accept recycled items.  The majority of City residents are without immediate access to recycling facilities, with store owners paying fines.

The Good Life Grocery on 20th Street has 20 employees, and is significantly smaller than its companion store on Cortland Avenue.  Only the Hill store is being fined, as the Bernal Heights location is in a served zone and isn’t required to provide recycling services. At $100 per day, fines on 20th Street could amount to $36,000 a year.

For large chains, such as Whole Foods and Safeway, CalRecycle fines are negligible compared to their profits.  According to a November 2015 issue of Street Sheet, Walgreen’s is the City’s largest redeemer, with 30 locations offering recycling services, avoiding about $1 million in fines annually. Smaller stores can’t afford the fines or fit recycling facilities on their properties. With tight square footage, oftentimes tucked underneath residences, markets may violate San Francisco Department of Health requirements if they attempt to provide recycling services.

Kayren Hudiburgh, co-owner of The Good Life Grocery, bought the 20th Street property last April, 30 years after her store opened in that location.  Owning the property doesn’t impact bottle bill requirements.  However, according to Hudiburgh, threatening letters from the state simply stopped coming; she’s “content to put my head under the sand, too, if they don’t fine us.”   She’s “crossing their fingers” in hopes that the market won’t ultimately be forced to pay large penalties.

Hudiburgh thinks that Recology should be responsible for providing recycling centers.  Recology collects garbage, compost and recyclables in municipalities across the western United States, including San Francisco, and educates consumers and businesses on proper disposal techniques. She’s spoken with District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen about the issue, as well as Recology representatives, but everyone has “mumbled” and “put their heads down,” though they seemed to agree that the law does more harm than good, “catching local businesses in the middle.”  She wasn’t impressed by the solutions offered by the Small Business Commission at a Potrero Dogpatch Merchants Association meeting held in May, which included a mobile recycling truck and “reverse” vending machines.

According to Hudiburgh, larger grocery chains have their “travails” with the law. Despite having a better ability to pay fines, she believes that “it is a problem that should not be foisted on ANY grocery store. The problems associated with this are immense…there needs to be a parking lot area dedicated to it,  the recycling and the money changing hands tends to lead to other problems, trash has to be cleaned up, loitering patrolled, storage is messy and leads to sanitation problems and on and on.”