US non-profit organisation Consumer Watchdog has claimed that the San Francisco (SF) BottleBank deposit return programme has failed to deliver the results it promised to its consumers.

The programme provides bottle deposit refunds to customers through electronic accounts in exchange for bags of California Redemption Value (CRV) empties taken to supermarket car parks by customers.

Watchdog recently received a review of internal memos alongside the budget of this programme from the state’s recycling regulator CalRecycle, which showed that the pilot has failed to meet its objectives.

The organisation also received a separate set of documents from the city of San Francisco’s Environment Department, under a Public Records Act request, which showcased similar results to the ones found previously.

Starting from 2020 through 2022, the programme used more than $3.6m of state grants used for services and facilities such as labour, trucks, consultants, technology and staff time of the SF Conservation Corps.

Watchdog revealed that the pilot initiative has only been able to return $143,000 to consumers in terms of redeemed bottles and can CRV deposits. 

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The organisation has now urged the state’s legislature to not provide any additional funding for this mobile pilot initiative and to restore all of the previous take-back obligations of supermarket and retail stores in San Francisco to redeem bottles and cans.

Consumer Watchdog president Jamie Court said: “The BottleBank is broke and a project that costs 79 cents to return a nickel deposit after 15 months of operation is a failed project that does not deserve more funding.

“SF’s experiment reaffirms the national experience, that mobile pilot projects do not work. CalRecycle should take heed as it builds a new bottle deposit system to begin in 2025 under SB [Senate Bill] 1013.”

A coalition of public interest groups sent a letter to CalRecycle’s director Rachel Wagoner last week, suggesting accelerating the implementation of SB 1013.

The letter also urged Wagoner to decrease the number of redemption points from one for every 31,000 Californians to one for every 10,000 Californians.