By Kathe Malouf
Special to the Sun
For the past 23 years, Web Recycling has played a major role in the Kern River Valley’s recycling program.
The “mom and pop” business opened in December 1995, when Bill and Shirley Blanton saw a need for a place where residents could take their recyclables.
“It started out with just my parents,” said Debra Smith, who serves as General Manager of Web Recycling. “My mom would stomp the cans flat and load them into their little red pick up truck. Then she would take them for processing so she could open up the next day.”
The business has come a long way. In addition to the main facility in Lake Isabella, Web has a mobile truck providing weekly service to Kernville and Southlake.
As a California Certified Recycler, Web is required to take all California Redemption Value (CRV) recyclables, which includes most beverage containers made from aluminum, plastic or glass.
Smith notes that not all beverage containers qualify for a refund.
“We can only refund if the container is clearly marked with the CRV stamp on its label or etched in the lid.” Smith said, adding that plastics are most confusing, as there are seven types, and each must be separated from the other.
California regulations require that recyclables be brought in clean and sorted, with aluminum cans separated from plastic, and clear glass separated from other colors. Additionally, there must be a label on each item and no scrap items can be intermingled.
For a small facility in a remote location, Web’s numbers are impressive.
“We process approximately 3,100 pounds of aluminum cans and 2,400 pounds of plastic bottles each week,” Smith said. “We take scrap plastic bottles such as dish soap, laundry soap, milk jugs as a courtesy to our customers, and because we want to keep our landfills to a minimum.” Webb does not take scrap metal, as they are not licensed to do so.
Smith said they take in almost as much weight in plastic as they do in cans. In 2017, Web processed a combined total of just under 500,000 pounds of material.
Webb sends about 15,000 pounds of glass every two weeks to their Bakersfield processor, West Rock. Once processed, the material is sent to an exporter. Smith is uncertain where it goes from there, adding that West Rock is a large company with multiple locations across the U.S.
Due to their location and the fact that glass is so heavy, Web pays to have glass picked up and transported. Smith said that their processor pays them only what they have paid to their customers, which means that Web actually loses money on glass.
Like so many other recyclers in California, Web has undergone changes brought about by the state. They are no longer allowed to sort the items for customers. Smith explained that this was a state decision to make it faster and easier for the consumer to recycle. Unfortunately, she said, there are many customers who still bring in items not ready for processing, which makes for a slow process.
“It is much better for all involved if the consumer arrives with everything sorted, caps removed and ready to be processed by one of our volunteers. It will make their visit shorter and simpler,” Smith said. “It will also make each person in line behind them happier.”
To keep the line flowing, Smith has instructed their volunteers to stop unsorted orders. At that time, the customer is directed to an area across the street to sort and clean their recyclables. After they have been sorted, they can return to the front of the line for processing.
“We appreciate all our customers, but no one enjoys sitting in the hot sun while waiting in line. That is why we strive to get our customers to have their orders ready for processing,” Smith said.
Smith said the state offers ongoing training seminars and monthly meetings to update recyclers of changes. But because those meetings are held in Sacramento, Smith said attendance is not always convenient.
The amount paid for recyclables changes every 6 months. Because refund pricing is set by the state, Smith said they are mandated to use that new rate for every transaction. “We are also mandated to take a percentage off of any order that comes in with any contamination,” Smith said, adding that containers can only have the residue of what was originally in it. “If any container has residue beyond that, the state considers it to be contaminated.”
Due to the rise in fraud within the industry, the state recently mandated that every container have the CRV label affixed to it in order for it to be processed for a refund. In other words: no label, no money value.
Smith believes that the regulations are sometimes good and sometimes not so good.
“I believe the program is both challenging and helpful,” she said. “The state believes they are helping by making regulations for all to follow. The fact that they change frequently is the rough part, but I think they are trying to improve the percentage of people who redeem their recyclables.”
Smith said she is pleased and surprised by the volume of items brought in.
“Our valley is really good about recycling. There are people who are adamant about recycling and they bring in good clean and separated material,” Smith said, noting that she has one resident who brings in about $200 worth of clean and properly sorted recyclables every couple of weeks.
The Department of Weights and Measures routinely checks Web Recycling. Additionally, each location must be recertified with the state every 2 to 4 years. To ensure that recyclers are taking in only the properly labeled items, the state places inspectors in line as customers as a way to conduct routine inspections. “We had one water bottle slip through without the proper label, and it cost us a $500 fine.”
Web Recycling is located at 3612 Suhre Street in Lake Isabella and open Tuesday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Their mobile truck is in Kernville on Thursdays (weather permitting) next to Archie’s Hardware from 8:30 to 5 p.m. and Southlake on Fridays (weather permitting) at the Kern Christian Church from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.