A long-awaited report on the costs of beverage container recycling does not officially reach any conclusions about the best way to turn around stagnant recycling rates, but fault lines are clearly being drawn.
Environmentalists say it proves that California's modified bottle bill is the best model, while a leading beverage industry trade group took the report to task for being ``inaccurate and tilted toward promoting forced container deposits.''
The Jan. 16 report from Atlanta-based Businesses and Environmentalists Allied for Recycling said that recycling under California's version of the bottle bill costs 0.55 cent per container, while traditional bottle bills cost 2.21 cents and curbside programs cost 1.72 cents.
California's system is cheaper in part because it centralizes collection outside of retail stores and does not sort bottles by brand.
But the National Soft Drink Association said BEAR's report ignores $65 million in administrative payments, processing costs, grants, subsidies to recycling programs and publicity costs in California. That pushes the per-container cost up to 1.27 cents, NSDA said.
NSDA also said BEAR overstates the cost of curbside programs because it underestimates how much money communities can get from selling recyclable materials. Washington-based NSDA contends that curbside costs could be as low as $1.4 cents per container. NSDA also questioned BEAR's figures for containers recovered with reverse vending machines.
``At best, the BEAR report contains some sloppy research, at worst it appears the numbers may have been manipulated to achieve a desired conclusion,'' said Preston Read, NSDA's director of environmental affairs.
BEAR Chairman Pierre Ferrari said his group wants to meet with NSDA and review its numbers. But he said that BEAR employed four consultants - two representing industry and two representing the environmental community - and spent a lot of time reviewing the figures.
``If we're wrong, we'll analyze it and republish it,'' Ferrari said. ``We're very confident our numbers are right. ... Our group is very saddened by the tone [NSDA is] taking.''
BEAR started work on the report in May with the idea of bringing together longtime opponents in recycling political fights to the same table - sort of a Camp David for bottle-bill warriors.
Coca-Cola North America and bottler Southeastern Container Inc. joined with the GrassRoots Recycling Network, the Container Recycling Institute and Global Green USA, the U.S. wing of Mikhail Gorbachev's International Green Cross. The group also included carpet maker Beaulieu of America and Waste Management Inc.
Coke also questioned the numbers. While Coke isn't a BEAR member, the company worked on the report.
Athens, Ga.-based GRRN said the report has ``the potential to break the long-standing impasse between environmentalists and the beverage industry on bottle bills.''
``We found ways to achieve the environmental performance we want along with the cost-savings that industry wants.''
Environmental groups also said container deposits encourage more recycling. According to the report, California recovered 55 percent of all containers, traditional bottle bills recovered 62 percent and curbside programs in nondeposit states recovered 19 percent.