The Container Recycling Institute and the National Association for PET Container Resources are in agreement on a key recycling issue: The PET recycling rate is falling steadily. Just a few months ago in this publication, NAPCOR President Luke Schmidt identified the problem. PET recycling rates are falling because of the lack of "recycling opportunities" for the growing number of single-serve beverages consumed away from home.
Since the scrap value of PET containers is insufficient to cover the cost of collection and processing, an economic incentive is essential to curb the growing amounts of waste — more than 600 bottles per second or 50 million per day. The CRI advocates proven methods to boost recycling, which reduces wasted resources, pollution and energy consumption.
In the 10 states where PET soda bottles and other beverage bottles and cans have a refund value of 2 to 10 cents, consumers have a monetary incentive to return the container for recycling. This "recycling opportunity" is available to all consumers whether they consume their drinks at home or away from home.
Despite their measurable success, bottle bills are being referred to by opponents as a 1970s solution to a year 2000 problem. This is a weak attempt to discredit the bottle bill's impressive 30-year track record. As NAPCOR knows, the vast majority of PET bottles recycled come from deposit states.
States with deposit systems have recycling rates two to three times higher than nondeposit states. Recycling opportunities are greater in deposit states, whether consumers return bottle and cans to the point of purchase, to buyback centers or through dropoff locations and curbside recycling.
Deposit states enjoy a range of benefits in addition to high recycling rates for beverage containers, including cleaner roadsides and public venues, increased employment in recycling businesses and reduced taxpayer costs for litter cleanup and waste disposal.
The bottle bill is not a magic bullet. But deposits on beverage containers offer the consumers of billions of beverages annually the most powerful incentive to date for keeping drink containers out of the waste stream. Bottle bills also guarantee recyclers a steady stream of high-quality material while holding manufacturers and consumers accountable for some of the costs of wasteful, single-serving beverage packaging.
Until the beverage companies and container manufacturers can offer a viable replacement for bottle bills, they do a disservice to the recycling industry and to the hundreds of millions of consumers who drink their product every day and need a proven method for disposing of the containers.
Pat Franklin is executive director of the Container Recycling Institute.