Congratulations to Pepsi-Cola Co. for finally committing to use recycled content in its soda bottles.
Perhaps more significantly, congratulations also are in order for the blow molders, PET recyclers and equipment suppliers that have helped to make Pepsi's decision possible.
Pepsi quietly shared the news with its bottlers and a few shareholders in letters dated Feb. 19 and Feb. 20. The company's goal is to use 10 percent recycled PET in the United States by 2005, according to the letters.
Publicly, Pepsi was light on details. There was no word on which technology the company will use or what strategy it will employ to reach the goal.
If you've got a sense of dejÃ vu about Pepsi's decision, then it shows that you've been paying attention. First, Pepsi's goal is very similar to Coca-Cola Co.'s announcement in April that it would use 10 percent recycled content in all of its bottles by 2005. (Doesn't Pepsi ever have an original idea?)
Second, you might recall that way back in December 1990, both Pepsi and Coke announced plans to use post-consumer PET in their bottles. At the time, Pepsi said all its bottles eventually would contain recycled resin.
But if this latest news was inevitable, it sure didn't look that way a few years ago.
Both Coke and Pepsi abandoned their previously announced recycled-content plans in the mid-1990s, blaming the high cost of recycling.
That's why Pepsi's partners deserve credit this time around. The last time, both Coke and Pepsi hitched their wagons to expensive chemical recycling technology, which couldn't compete with virgin PET once virgin resin became more plentiful. As soon as it appeared that no one was going require Coke and Pepsi to use recycled content, both companies backed off.
Today, however, recyclers have supercleaning technology that allows them to market cost-effective post-consumer PET. Bottle suppliers, meanwhile, have learned to handle the recycled stuff, both in monolayer blends and in sophisticated multilayer injection molded preforms.
As a result, Coke and Pepsi today can commit to using recycled content even without a credible threat of legislation requiring them to do so — although there's no doubt that pressure from environmentalists played an important part in this decision.
Ultimately, whether this works will be up to consumers and governmental bodies. They'll need to come up with a way to collect enough PET bottles to ensure that both Coke and Pepsi won't run short. Coke and Pepsi's previous failure is proof that, over the long haul, recycling won't work unless it makes economic sense.