Sebastopol ‘Recycle Zone’ is first of Sonoma County’s new can and bottle redemption sites

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Mary Callahan, Press Democrat | April 22, 2022

  • Sonoma County’s newest beverage container redemption center
  • Under a $1 million state grant received by Sonoma County under a CalRecycle pilot program, Zero Waste Sonoma has opened the first of 10 planned CRV beverage container redemption sites in partnership with United Cerebral Palsy of the North Bay.
  • The redemption center is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday in the parking lot of the Community Church of Sebastopol, 1000 Gravenstein Highway North, Sebastopol.

You wouldn’t think finding a new place to redeem recyclable bottles and cans would be accompanied by so much emotion.

But many of those who came to a newly launched buyback site in Sebastopol recently appeared sincerely thrilled to have a convenient new spot to earn a few bucks in exchange for the containers they had saved up.

Pam Nilsson was an example. A resident of Blue Spruce Mobile Home Lodge near Graton, Nilsson collects and redeems beverage containers to support her neighborhood community garden. She was eager to secure full value for materials she said had been deriving less.

“I was so happy a couple of weeks ago to find out about this recycling center,” she said. “It’s a shame that it’s coming so late, because so much plastic has been generated in the past two years.”


Nathan Morphew, right, helps James Carrigan carry bags of materials for recycling at the new CRV beverage container recycle center at the Community Church of Sebastopol on Thursday, March 31, 2022. (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

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Dennis Blong, project manager with Petaluma-based United Cerebral Palsy of the North Bay, said that’s how it’s been since the center launched in mid-March.

People have gradually discovered it’s there and are just glad about it, returning tens of thousands of containers subject to the state’s five- and 10-cent California Redemption Value, or CRV.

“It’s really been positive feedback,” he said.

He and Leslie Lukacs, executive director at Zero Waste Sonoma, hope it’s just the beginning of a more robust redemption system in Sonoma County.

But they also hope it contributes to repair of a broken statewide program that has lost much of the infrastructure through which Californians redeem the nickel and dime credit owed them for buying soda, beer, bottled water, sports drinks and other qualifying beverages.

The state has lost almost half of the 2,448 certified recycling centers it once had over the past decade, including most of the 24 that were once located in Sonoma County. Until the new Recycle Zone opened last month in Sebastopol, the county had only four, all located along the Highway 101 corridor and, thus, difficult for many in outlying parts of the county to reach.

The center is the first of up to 10 redemption sites expected to open around the county over the next few years under a $1 million grant from the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, or CalRecycle.

Five California communities received grants under the first round of funding of a pilot project designed to boost access to beverage container redemption sites to help rebuild and improve a system intended to keep recyclables from the landfill and channel them instead into production of new containers.

Blong’s nonprofit organization, which has run the Petaluma Recycling center for three decades, is partnered with Zero Waste Sonoma, a regional agency, on the project.

The first station opened in mid-March at the Community Church of Sebastopol and operates from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday.

Blong said he hopes to have the second site opened by May at the Healdsburg city corporation yard, which will be open Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

Lukacs said two sites in Santa Rosa are in negotiation, as well.

Plans eventually include mimicking bag-drop models already in use in states like Oregon that would allow consumers to leave bags marked with bar-coded tags or something similar at a drop-off site for processing in Petaluma. Redemption credit would be processed electronically over 72 hours, instead of paid out immediately, Blong said.

The system is currently prohibited by the state’s bottle bill, which requires redemption sites to be staffed, but is being permitted by pilot project participants, including San Francisco, to see how it might work in California.

It also requires an expensive piece of machinery that includes scanning to ensure the contents of returned bags are what they are purported to be, which in turn requires sufficient volume at future redemption sites planned for Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Sonoma, Sebastopol, Healdsburg and Cloverdale.

Sebastopol residents Jim and Gretchen Carrigan were among the early arrivals at the Sebastopol center and required three trips to exchange all the bottles and cans they and Jim Carrigan’s mother had accumulated over the past year and a half.

Grateful for a nearby place to return them for the deposit they’d paid without risking a very long line in Santa Rosa, they were in good cheer while unloading the back of their truck for what, on this occasion, was about $78 — “a little money in our pocket,” Gretchen Carrigan said.

“It’s going back to the community in a way that’s really needed,” she said “and the fact that they use the United Cerebral Palsy of the North Bay is so cool.”

Customer Conrad Bauman said he hoped the new site worked well, now that it’s open.

“They want everybody to recycle,” he said, “but they don’t make it easy.”

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.