SF BottleBank recycling program reports low collection numbers as advocates say it favors grocers, not consumers

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — There are only two recycling centers operated by the San Francisco BottleBank Mobile Recycling Program. So how are they?

“We’ve received approximately 1,500 bags to date, resulting in a total of $4,500 being returned to San Francisco beverage consumers,” said Charles Sheehan of the San Francisco Department of the Environment.

Jamie Court of Consumer Watchdog filed public records requests with the State of California.

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“We have the numbers and they’re far from disappointing, they’re pitiful,” he told 7 On Your Side. “I mean they’re worse than pitiful, there are days when there’s no bottle and can collection.”

Court says the program is failing and thinks he knows why: some of those who set up the program were more concerned with what the grocers wanted than with the actual recycling. He designates this group: the San Francisco CRV Alliance. There isn’t much on its website; some PDF posters and logos of some of San Francisco’s top grocers.

However, on the SF BottleBank website, the Alliance is listed as a partner. No consumer group receives this billing.

Consumer Watchdog says the San Francisco CRV Alliance received hundreds of thousands of dollars to consult on setting up BottleBank. Charles Sheehan says that’s not true.

RELATED: San Francisco Launches Advance Mobile Recycling Service, But Not Everyone’s Happy

“We didn’t pay the CRV Alliance entity, they represent grocers and this program needs grocers,” he says.

7 On Your Side asked Sheehan if his department had paid alliance officials to be consultants. He says yes: “We paid consultants who had been working on this program since before the Alliance and they are associated with the Alliance today, and they helped us to set up this project.”

In a letter asking for an investigation into potential fraud, Consumer Watchdog says grocers didn’t want to take back bottles and cans, and now, thanks to this mobile pilot program, they haven’t had to accept empties since the last summer, when consumers are still waiting for their mobile recycling.

“The deviousness of this plot is unforgivable,” Court wrote in the letter. “Failure to spend public funds for desired public purposes should be investigated and prosecuted.”

California State Senator Bob Wieckowski (D – Fremont) received the letter and has concerns. “It has that insider flavor, Michael, that we frown upon in government. You don’t like people taking advantage of themselves, we have disclosure laws because of that, don’t you ?” he told 7 On Your Side’s Michael Finney.

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“So it was $700,000, not for one counting machine, not for one truck. All of that for the consultants to figure out how to make this plan work when it was operational and it wasn’t working, and those $700,000 as far as we can tell has vanished,” Court says.

“If I’m one of the 450 grocers, I know what I’m getting for my money,” says Senator Wieckowski. “I have a ‘Get Out of Jail’ card.”

7 On Your Side requested interviews with the San Francisco CRV Alliance and the grocers listed on their website, none agreed to speak to us.

At the request of 7 On Your Side, CalRecycles Director Rachel Wagoner released a statement saying in part, “The department is reviewing the information.”

Charles Sheehan says there is no wrongdoing, and with most recycling centers closed, a solution was needed in the city of San Francisco. 7 On Your Side will keep track of this and report on it.

Check out more stories and videos from Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

Do you have a question for Michael and the 7 On Your Side team? Fill out the form HERE!
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