Some critics are eager to condemn Miller Brewing Co.'s PET beer bottle, charging that it is difficult to recycle. We suggest they wait until actual plastics recyclers weigh in on the issue.
The amber-colored bottles, which feature an aluminum cap, metalized label and oxygen-barrier layer, appear to break some major design-for-recyclability rules.
Already, the Los Angeles City Council and Madison, Wis., city officials have publicly condemned Miller, and some environmental organizations have taken stances against the bottle.
But recyclers have not rushed to prejudge the multilayer PET bottle. They have important questions first: How many bottles can they expect to recycle? Can the bottles be sorted automatically from other PET? Can the label and cap be separated easily? Is there a market for the clean flake?
To study the Miller bottle, the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers is working closely with the American Plastics Council and the National Association for PET Container Resources. We applaud the team effort, and encourage others to wait until APR and key PET recyclers weigh in with the results of the study.
One key issue still on the table — the bottle supplier, Continental PET Technologies Inc., promised to buy Miller beer bottles at an attractive price for at least a year to help create a market. Continental PET plans to use recycled content in some of the bottles.
Continental PET and its parent, Owens-Illinois Inc., appear to be making the right steps. They're talking with recyclers and cooperating with efforts to identify and solve potential recycling issues.
Beer is one of the last unchallenged bastions of glass and aluminum packaging. If PET bottles are a step backward environmentally, brewers will be sure to hear about it. As the plastics industry has learned, few companies are willing to suffer criticism for their packaging — especially if the package hurts sales.
The Miller bottle is probably the first in a long line of PET beer bottles. There's a lot of experimentation going on with various resins, barriers, caps and colors. Some, no doubt, will be easier to recycle, some will be harder. As always, we encourage marketers and bottle designers to give strong consideration to APR's recycling design guidelines.
But in this case, recyclers are right to take their time and consider the facts before giving Miller the thumbs up — or thumbs down.