California levels criminal fraud charges against men who were recycling

Most Americans know that some of the most zealous environmentalists reside in deep blue California.

The state’s Democrat supermajority has, over the years, passed so many restrictive environmental laws and regulations that critics have even blamed the recent wildfires on them. 

That said, it seems hypocritical — ludicrous, even — that anyone could be arrested in the Golden State for recycling, but it’s happened.

As reported by the Merced Sun-Star, three Arizona men have been charged with committing recycling “fraud” after they allegedly smuggled some $16.1 million worth of recyclable beverage containers into California.

The paper reported:

Miguel Bustillos, owner of Bustillos’ Trucking, truck driver Anthony Sanchez and “suspected broker” Amaury Avila-Medina have been charged with felony recycling fraud, conspiracy and grand theft, the result of a five-month investigation by the California attorney general’s office, CalRecycle and the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

“California’s recycling program is one of many publicly-funded programs used to incentivize better treatment of our environment and communities. Those who choose to undercut these efforts to protect and improve our community will be apprehended,” Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement announcing the bust.

A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, Jennifer Molina, said the $16.1 million “was calculated using the suspect’s admission of the amount and frequency that he imported recyclable material into California. We verified the average amount by taking the weights of the trucks that we previously seized from the suspect while en route to California.”


This isn’t even the first case of “recycling fraud” in California. The Sacramento Bee reported in September that the state AG’s office had charged eight people with smuggling 28 tons of cans and bottles into the state in three separate cases.

So what gives? Why are people going to the trouble of smuggling recyclables into the Golden State? Profits, that’s why. Oh, and state taxpayers are footing the bill.

Not just any recyclables 

The SacBee noted that cans and bottles have a 5- or 10-cent “California Redemption Value” if they are brought to a CalRecycle facility and cashed in. In 2016, a CalRecycle report noted that state residents recycle some 37 million tons of materially annually, including about 1 million tons of drink bottles.

“Those attempting to cash in on out-of-state containers and steal CRV funds from California consumers should know we have agents and staff working diligently to disrupt these schemes and protect public funds,” said CalRecycle Director Scott Smithline.

The state’s beverage container recycling program is financed by the California Refund Value Program, which applies a surcharge (tax) on drink containers at the retail point of sale. So bottles brought in from out of state don’t qualify because they were never taxed.

Okay, that makes sense to a point. But in another way, it makes no sense at all.

What the California AG’s office is saying with these arrests is that only California recyclables are worthy of being processed, not recyclable material from outside of the state. 

Because after all, recycling is recycling, isn’t it? (Related: The recycling contradiction: Why recycling alone fails to protect the environment.)

Apparently not.

What’s also true is that the way California set up this program made it rife for fraud and abuse. Paying people to ‘recycle’ is creating an incentive to profit from the endeavor; why else would anyone go to the trouble to truck in tons and tons of recyclable materials?

And again, the bottom line is, the materials are getting recycled. And that’s what the California program seeks to do — encourage recycling.

Are there better ways to encourage people to recycle? Probably; public education — teaching the environmental benefits of recycling — is one way. Making recycling seem like part of our civic duty is another. Coming up with new recycling technology is yet another way.

But rewarding recycling efforts with cash has only made it attractive as a for-profit endeavor.

And yet, the bottom line remains: No matter where CalRecycle cans and bottles are coming from, at least they’re not strewn along streets and highways anymore.

Read more about onerous regulations at

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