WASHINGTON — A group of environmentalists, a liberal foundation and a large carpet manufacturer are in serious discussions about forming a well-funded national alliance to promote bottle-bill legislation. The talks are in the early stages, and those involved say the effort could come to nothing. But several expressed optimism that the group will come together.
Those involved are talking about tentative budgets beginning in the mid-six figures, but that could rise to more than $1 million a year — a significant shot in the arm for bottle-bill proponents.
The talks include some high-profile or potentially deep-pocketed organizations: the Turner Foundation, which is associated with media mogul Ted Turner; Global Green USA, the U.S. chapter of a worldwide environmental group founded by former Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev; and carpet maker Beaulieu of America LLC, a Dalton, Ga., company that says it is the world's third-largest carpet maker.
Also involved are the GrassRoots Recycling Network, the Container Recycling Institute and other environmental groups. GRRN, which has received money from the Turner Foundation, has been pressuring Coca-Cola Co. to use more recycled plastic in bottles. Scott Seydel, president of EvCo Research Inc. in Atlanta, which manufacturers specialty coatings and chemicals from PET, is also involved in the talks.
"It's not a done deal," said Paul Walker, who directs the Washington office of Global Green and is acting as a facilitator in the talks. "It could fall apart. That's unlikely. More likely it will go forward as a very strong national coalition."
"I don't look for it falling apart," said Pat Franklin, executive director of the Container Recycling Institute in Arlington, Va. "It isn't a done deal. It is definitely on a fast track."
None of the partners have made specific financial commitments, Walker said. Global Green will put up some money, he said. The group deals with a broad range of environmental issues and has an office in Santa Monica, Calif., that focuses on resource conservation issues. Its international parent group is called the International Green Cross.
Those involved with the talks say part of what is driving Beaulieu to get involved is a desire to boost the supply of PET bottles it uses to make fibers. The company also fears that if Coke decides to boost recycled content in its PET bottles, that will squeeze supplies.
One of Beaulieu's competitors, Mohawk Industries Inc., recently struck a deal with Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc. to buy Coke's bottle-bill material from Michigan and the Northeast. Coke owns its redeemed bottles in deposit states.
Walker said the group could support educational efforts, but he said the main public policy focus will be on bottle bills: "If this coalition works out, we'll go for the mechanism we think works best. Right now it appears deposit legislation tends to work best."
The effort will target several states, including Georgia, where much of the carpet industry is based. There is significant bottle-bill activity in Iowa and Kentucky, Franklin said. California last year expanded its existing bottle bill.
"There will never be enough dollars raised to match the dollars put up against [bottle bills]," Franklin said. "It would be an incredible increase over the amount of money spent [now] to pass bottle bills or expand existing bottle bills."
Luke Schmidt, the president of National Association for PET Container Resources in Charlotte, N.C., said that 2,000 bottle bills have been introduced in state legislatures since the mid-1980s and none has passed.
Local governments have made significant investments in curbside collection programs since bottle bills were popular in the 1970s, he said.
"Why would you push an idea whose times has come and gone?" Schmidt said. "Why would you want to push an idea that is less convenient and really is more expensive?"