Eco-friendly California's recycling program is on the rocks

SACRAMENTO _ For years, California has courted a reputation as an eco-friendly, green-minded leader, but the state now finds its most basic program for recycling beverage bottles and cans mired in debt and litigation.

Dozens of supermarket recycling sites have shut down recently as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state legislators spar over how to close a massive gap in the program's budget.

California's 23-year-old recycling program, managed by the Department of Conservation through fees charged to beverage buyers, has been hurt this year by recession, rising redemption rates and raids of its coffers to help ease the state's budget woes.

Schwarzenegger and the Democratic-controlled Legislature concede that the program, which collected more than 16 billion beverage containers last year, is in fiscal distress _ but each has rejected the other's solution.

"This is an important program for California and we are currently looking at ways to improve funding in this down economy," said Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Rachel Arrezola.

Mark Murray of Californians Against Waste, a nonprofit advocacy group, said consumers are going to find it increasingly difficult to recycle their beverage containers.

"The net result is likely to be a drop in the recycling rate," he said.

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