Commentary: Time to tweak California's recycling program

California's beverage container recycling program the "bottle bill" is due for a tuneup. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, by signing two bills lawmakers sent to his desk, can improve and expand a successful program.

If you peek beneath the hood of this complex contraption, you'll see a tangled mess of fees, subsidies, definitions, rules and regulations. But clear all that stuff away and you're left with a simple concept: The polluter pays. Those who sell the products that litter our streets, parks and beaches and burden our landfills are largely responsible for the cost of retrieving and recycling those containers.

Fortunately for them and for us, that cost is greatly reduced by the deposits attached to beverage containers as part of the bottle bill. Prodded by those deposits and the program behind them, Californians now recycle about 78 percent of the beverage containers that are part of the system 16 billion cans, bottles and boxes last year alone.

Yet we still toss away billions of containers each year, degrading our landscapes and burdening our landfills with material that could be recycled. And partly because lawmakers have borrowed from its bank account, the program is in danger of running out of money.

The bills on the governor's desk would help return the program to sound financial footing. Senate Bill 402 expands the bottle bill and fixes some of its flaws. Assembly Bill 473 requires apartment house owners to provide recycling services to their tenants.

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