A new environmental report that assesses the efforts of 12 leading U.S. beverage bottlers said even the best efforts to date are mediocre and calls for the companies to adopt five recommendations to increase recycled content and recycling rates.
``Both Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have shown some leadership. However, most other companies have done little to nothing to significantly improve recycling rates,'' said Nishita Bakshi, research director of the Corporate Social Responsibility program at As You Sow.
The nonprofit organization based in San Francisco represents institutional shareholders to promote socially and environmentally responsible policies.
The report, issued Oct. 17 by As You Sow and the Washington-based Container Recycling Institute, was developed to give investors a tool to measure steps taken by firms to reduce container packaging and increase recycling.
Only five of the 12 companies included in the report returned surveys. The report, called ``Waste and Opportunity: U.S. Beverage Container Recycling Scorecard and Report,'' evaluates more than 95 percent of the carbonated soft drink market, more than 60 percent of the bottled-water market and more than 70 percent of the beer industry.
The groups hope the scorecard also will spur an industry coalition, the Beverage Packaging Environment Council, to set national goals for container recycling. While still not setting any nationwide targets for increased recycling, the National Recycling Coalition - facilitator for BPEC - said Oct. 23 that it would launch its first initiative with that in mind.
NRC, in partnership with the American Beverage Association, the Food Marketing Institute, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Food Products Association and the International Bottled Water Association, said it will develop ``consumer-friendly recycling icons and accurate and standardized recycling terminology for use in product advertising and product labeling'' in an effort ``to reignite American consumers' interest in recycling.''
``We are trying to engage BPEC into action and get them to put forth a master plan to increase container recycling,'' Bakshi said.
``We hope this would move BPEC and the individual companies to establish goals that are achievable and attainable and that they would invest in those goals,'' CRI executive director Pat Franklin said Oct. 18 by phone. ``[The associations] formed BPEC several years ago and very little has come from that. They haven't established any recycling goals or set in place any plans to increase recycling rates. They continue to fight against bottle-deposit bills, so they have to come up with alternatives to achieve higher recycling rates. They need to take responsibility for their environmental impact.''
PET bottle recycling rates dropped from 39.7 percent in 1995 to 19.6 percent in 2003 before rebounding slightly in 2004 to 21.6 percent. The actual number of PET bottles produced is rising dramatically.
Between 1992 and 2004, PET carbonated soft drink bottle sales more than doubled from 12 billion units to more than 28 billion units, according to data from the American Plastics Council in Arlington, Va. Likewise, PET bottled-water sales grew from 3.3 billion units in 1997 to an estimated 28 billion in 2005, CRI data said.
``Each year, we are producing more beverages, but recycling a smaller portion of those containers,'' Franklin said.
``The most surprising finding is that even though bottled water is now eclipsing soft drinks in sales, none of the companies that sell water as their prime product seem to have any environmental mission or code,'' said Conrad McKerron, who heads As You Sow's Corporate Social Responsibility Program. He noted in particular a lack of effort by Nestle Waters North America, which sells, under a variety of brands, more than 31 percent of all bottled waters.
``Bottled-water sales have grown nearly 700 percent in the last eight years, yet stand-alone water companies have shown no leadership in using recycled content or improving recycling rates. There has been insufficient action by the beverage industry to significantly increase beverage container recovery,'' McKerron said. ``The lack of transparency and lack of information at these companies about their recycling efforts is a major disappointment.''
The only companies to get ratings above D- were Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo, and they were given only Cs for their efforts.
``They strive for excellence in everything else, but in their environmental footprint, they are only at the mediocre level,'' Franklin said. ``It is shocking that they would settle for this.''
Coke and Pepsi get credit for reaching their target of 10 percent recycled content in their PET soft drink and water bottles in the U.S. by the end of 2005. However, as the report points out, both companies have higher levels of recycled content in other countries and have retreated from a 1990 promise to introduce plastic soda bottles in the U.S. with 25 percent recycled content.
Also, while Pepsi has pledged to maintain that 10 percent recycled- content level in the U.S., Coke has backtracked. In the survey it returned to As You Sow, Coke said it has not re-established that goal for 2006 and is concentrating instead on increasing the ``capacity of economically competitive and regulatory-approved content technologies for processing food-grade PET material in North America,'' according to the report.
The report said there has been some progress in reducing the weight of plastic bottles. In 2005, for example, Coke reduced its overall PET use by 2 percent by changing the shape and weight of its bottles. Additionally, its stated goal is to reduce the weight of its 20-ounce PET water bottles by 3½ grams and its 20-ounce carbonated soft drink bottle by 2 grams through further redesign.
The report also found that Pepsi's PET soda bottle weighed at least 1 gram less than a similarly sized Coca-Cola soda, that Cadbury Schweppes' 7-Up bottles weighed 0.7 gram less than Coke's Sprite bottles and that Pepsi's Aquafina water bottle weighed almost 4 grams less than Coke's Dasani water bottle.
The report added that Crystal Geyser had the lightest plastic water bottles at 17½ grams for a 17-fluid-ounce bottle, and added that a 1-gram reduction in the weight of each beverage bottle manufactured in the U.S. would save 222,000 tons of PET a year.
To attain a steadily increasing recycling rate, the As You Sow/CRI report recommends that beverage companies:
* Commit to using higher levels of recycled content in their containers.
* Commit to a measurable national recovery goal for beverage containers.
* Commit to design innovations that use less packaging material and improve recyclability.
* Make their recycling goals public and make information available to the public about the actions taken to achieve the goals.
* Support public policies and voluntary measures that increase recycling.
``If most public companies are going to continue to oppose container-deposit laws, they should propose a quantifiably substantive and sustainable national option in their place,'' the report said.
``So many companies don't even seem to have beverage container recycling on their radar screens,'' Franklin said.
``Let's hope this report is a wake-up call and encourages the beverage industry players to do much more,'' said Carl Pope, Sierra Club's executive director. ``Beverage companies [need] to step up and improve their recycling efforts as well as to support public policies and programs to boost collection and recycling rates.''