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Friday, January 18 , 2019, 10:25 am | Fair 60º


Busy Larrabee Recycling Center to Close in Santa Maria

Owners cite a number of factors for ending service, as similiar situation seen across California

Bales of recyclables are stacked on a pallet as Larrabee Recycling customers bring more items before the Santa Maria facility closes on Friday. Click to view larger
Bales of recyclables are stacked on a pallet as Larrabee Recycling customers bring more items before the Santa Maria facility closes on Friday. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Following a trend seen across the state, the popular Larrabee Recycling Center will close Friday after serving the Santa Maria Valley for 45 years.

The closure, which will leave the city with two small recycling buy-back centers at grocery store parking lots and other facilities on West Betteravia Road, comes from increased operational costs, decreased profits and declining support from CalRecycle, Larrabee representatives said.

"For us, it's heartbreaking because we provide a community service, but we're a business and we can't keep losing money," co-owner Shannon Larrabee said.

Larrabee Recyling, once named Small Business of the Year for the 33rd Assembly District, is located with the family beer distribution company, Central Coast Distributing, on South Blosser Road. The beer distribution center will continue operating.

Larrabee opened for business in 1970, the same year Coors Brewing Co. began its “Cash for Cans” program. The successful program, which paid customers one cent per can, ended in the early 1990s.

Years earlier, California lawmakers approved the California Beverage Container Recycling and Litter Reduction Act of 1986, known as the “Bottle Bill.”

Under the California Redemption Value, consumers have paid deposits of five cents per smaller recyclable and 10 cents for large containers. 

But the rates recycling centers receive for glass, plastic and aluminum have fallen, making the business not profitable and leading to closures across the state.

Earlier this month, CalRecycle, which oversees recycling and waste management programs, announced reductions in payments for programs and processing fees.

This will put further stress on already-overburdened recycling centers, Larrabee said, adding that some communities in California reported 2-hour waits.

“We are essentially in partnership with CalRecycle, and they have not been very good partners,” Larrabee said. “Combined with decreased scrap values, that has made it unwise to continue the recycling center.”

Without an adequate number of recycling facilities, the California Redemption Value deposit essentially becomes a tax, Larrabee said. 

Before choosing to close, Larrabee said it asked if CalRecycle had any grants or help so the business could remain open, but were rebuffed. 

The formula for processing payments is regulated, with adjustments made quarterly, according to Mark Oldfield, CalRecycle communications director.

“For the last three quarters, these processing payments have gone up,” Oldfield said. “This next quarter they’re going down slightly.”

The situation currently faced by the recycling centers is unique, he added. 

“It’s just really a very challenging environment right now,” he added. 

While California had 2,100 centers at one point, the number dropped to 1,700, a reduction he said affects consumers.

“It’s something that certainly is of concern to CalRecycle. It’s a concern to the Legislature. It’s a concern to the recycling industry stakeholders,” Oldfield said.. 

CalRecycle oversees a number of recycling programs, including beverage containers. The agency has 700 employees, about 200 of whom work on beverage container recycling program, Oldfield said.

Larrabee Recycling has a steady stream of customers six days a week.

In 2016, more than 60,000 customers brought in 2.7 million pounds of material, which equals 34 million beverage containers. In all, Larrabee paid out $1.7 million in CRV.

Customers include many long-time recyclers representing all spectrums of society. 

But many regulars were the city’s poorest residents, who used the recycling center as a legit way to make money. 

“We’re super sad because we know it’s going to be hard for the community,” she said.

RePlanet buy-back centers exist near Vons on Main Street and Albertsons on McCoy Lane, but typically have just one staff member. 

“They cannot handle the volume that we get,” Larrabee said. 

Health Sanitation Service, SA Recycling and Bedford Enterprises are on West Betteravia Road, not as convenient or set up for the large volume Larrabee handled from individuals.

“I just don’t know where these folks are going to go,” Larrabee said.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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