‘The Bottle Deposit’ Come to Life: Family Charged in Alleged ‘Seinfeld’-Like Recycling Scheme
Over the course of an eight-month investigation, state officials worked with the Department of Justice to investigate a gaggle of recycling centers operated by the defendants in Riverside County. The family is said to have smuggled all of those aluminum cans and plastic bottles from neighboring Arizona in order to take advantage of California’s notoriously generous redemption program.
If this scheme rings any bells, it could be because it’s hardly the first time someone has tried to capitalize on the discrepancy in recycling redemption from state-to-state. It also could be because such subterfuge was the subject of a 1996 episode of Seinfeld. The episode, aptly titled “The Bottle Deposit,” found Kramer and Newman hatching a plot to bring a mail truck’s worth of recyclables to Michigan in order to cash in on the state’s 10-cent deposit return, up 5 cents from that of New York’s. While they didn’t learn a lesson about the perils of recycling fraud, they did find themselves thwarted by other forces — namely, a thief who had stolen Jerry’s car (like most Seinfeld plotlines, it really only makes sense if you’ve seen it).
In any event, the family’s recyclable haul raked in $7.6 million. Using California’s minimum 5-cent redemption value as a baseline, that means they could have smuggled as many as 152 million cans and bottles across state lines. Aside from defrauding the state and California taxpayers who pay a small bottle tax any time they purchase a canned or bottled beverage, it’s also illegal to transport cans or bottles from one state to another with the intention of redeeming a cash payout.
But maybe the worst sin here is how they so blatantly recycled an old Seinfeld bit for their crimes.