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Study: Growing number of containers aren't being recycled

By: Jim Johnson

October 31, 2013

Recycling of PET beverage containers jumped during the first decade of this century, but so did the amount of those containers that ended up being wasted, according to a new study.

The Container Recycling Institute is out with what the non-profit group calls its new signature report examining beverage container recycling rates.

Overall, an estimated 243 billion beverage packages of all types were sold in 2010, but 153 billion of those containers were either landfilled, incinerated or littered, CRI reported.

PET bottles accounted for 79 billion, or 33 percent, of the 243 billion units sold in 2010, CRI said, and high density polyethylene bottles accounted for 8.5 billion, or 4 percent, of the total. Aluminum cans led the way at 100 billion units, or 41 percent of the total.

CRI estimates 647,000 tons of PET beverage containers were recycled in 2010, but another 1.5 million tons were wasted. That compares to a million tons of PET bottles wasted in 2000.

PET bottles had a 29.1 percent recycling rate in 2010, up from 24.8 percent in 2000, but still lower than the peak of 37.3 percent in 1995, the group said.

HDPE bottles, meanwhile, had a 29.9 percent recycling rate in 2010 for a total of 187,000 tons of recovered material. But that also means that 438,000 tons, almost 2.5 times more, were wasted, CRI said.

The group’s report also examined so-called non-traditional containers, a category that includes drink pouches, cartons and aseptic drink boxes. Some 20 billion of these containers were used in 2010, but only 1.1 billion were recycled, CRI said.

Overall, CRI said the “wasting rate” for all beverage containers was 63 percent in 2010, up from 59 percent in 2000.

“Recycling rates have stagnated in large part due to a dramatic increase in consumption of these beverages, especially at businesses and in public spaces where recycling bins are scarce,” said CRI President Susan Collins, in a statement.

Collins also pointed to what she called an unwillingness by state legislatures to enact effective recycling policies, including new or expanded container deposit laws.

CRI advocates for beverage container deposits and believes this is the most effective way to push recycling rates much higher.

The report, “Bottled Up: Beverage Container Recycling Stagnates (2000-2010),” is available at www.container-recycling.org.

Capturing all of the wasted containers would save enough energy to power nearly all of the homes in both Los Angeles and Chicago, CRI said. It would also eliminate as much greenhouse gas that is created by 2.3 million cars.

“To realize meaningful energy savings and reduce the GHG emissions associated with beverage consumption, beverage container recycling must dramatically increase across the country,” Collins said in the statement.