It does not appear that any new bottle-deposit bills will pass in 2008 or be expanded to include water and sports drink bottles. So why is bottled-water executive Breck Speed calling for a nationwide bottle bill when that call for action will put his company and his industry at odds with soft drink firms, which have opposed bottle bills for decades?
``If we do this, we absolutely disarm our critics,'' said Speed, chairman and chief executive officer of Mountain Valley Spring Co. in Hot Springs National Park, Ark. Those critics lately have assailed the bottled-water industry for greenhouse-gas emissions and with claims that tap water is as good as bottled water.
``Bottled water has come under attack for its environmental impact, and right now, we are disarmed from having a good conversation about it because they are absolutely right. We are throwing away too much and that trumps everything,'' Speed said.
The PET recycling rate in 2006 was 23.5 percent, according to the National Association for PET Container Resources in Sonoma, Calif. That means more than 4.17 billions pounds of PET were not recycled. That is almost a four-fold increase in the amount of PET not recycled from 1995, when the PET recycling rate was 39.7 percent and only 1.18 billion pounds were not recycled.
``We can blame lazy American consumers if we want to do that for not recycling, but that is an excuse. And that is not going to save us from the righteous wrath of the consumers,'' Speed said. ``We want to remain the good guys and I'm not willing to be run over.
``If we, as an industry, support a national bottle bill, it would be to our benefit, because to consumers, sustainability means recycling. And we need to consider a higher [10 cent] deposit and index it over time,'' he said, pointing to the higher recycling rates in states with higher deposits.
Speed also chastised beer and soft drink companies and the Washington-based American Beverage Association for pushing voluntary curbside recycling as a solution.
``Voluntary recycling doesn't work very easily for the consumers or for the municipalities,'' he said. ``You either need a bottle bill, or mandatory curbside recycling with a funding mechanism'' such as the stewardship fee program in Canada, or both.
``The beer and soft drink folks don't get it. They are resistant to it,'' Speed said. ``But at some point, the other beverage companies are going to have to catch up with reality. We need to have a nationwide bottle bill. We need to have mandatory curbside recycling. I don't think the leadership in the big beverage companies understands this.''
Soft drink firms PepsiCo Inc. of Purchase, N.Y., and Coca-Cola Co. of Atlanta did not respond to Speed's call for a national bottle bill or his criticism of their industry.
Speed is not alone in advocating bottle bills, said NAPCOR executive director Dennis Sabourin.
Sabourin compared Speed's position with that of Kim Jeffery, chairman and CEO of Nestle Waters North America in Greenwich, Conn. ``He has been an advocate, too,'' Sabourin said.
``Our position is neutral,'' Sabourin said. ``However, we favor anything that will improve [PET] collection.''
``Finally, a beverage producer gets it,'' said beverage container recycling expert Pat Franklin, who stepped down a year ago as head of the nonprofit Container Recycling Institute, which she founded. ``Breck Speed took a bold and audacious step in asking fellow beverage producers to step up to the plate and take responsibility for their packaging waste. His public support for a national bottle bill is historic.''
Speed's support ``demonstrates that he understands the importance of producer responsibility,'' said Betty McLaughlin, executive director of Glastonbury, Conn.-based CRI. ``His support, along with the support we have heard from Fiji Water and Nestle Waters, shows that these companies understand the issues involved in climate change and recycling.''
Fiji Water Co. LLC, based in Los Angeles, said it sees that company taking an ``active'' role in advocating legislation that will boost overall recycling rates either through expanded curbside recycling or ``container deposit laws that include bottled water and other noncarbonated beverages.''
Speed said he would like to see any bottle bill apply to many things besides beverages, such as plastic containers. He also said that he supports mandatory curbside recycling and likes the idea of a stewardship fee similar to the ones used in Canada to financially support curbside recycling. ``If we do that, we capture a lot more stuff than bottles. It is a basic conservation principle not to throw away stuff that is useful.''
Besides, he said, the beverage and bottled-water industry would be the beneficiaries from the increased capture of 13.6 billion pounds of packaging material that is used annually. ``The plastics industry is anxious for a lot of this material,'' Speed said.
He said the bottled-water industry has been working with beverage companies in an attempt to reach a consensus but acknowledged that task is difficult ``because the status quo is what they seem to want.''
``The hope is that you would be able to form a consensus on this,'' Speed said. ``But, if not, the bottled-water industry has to take the lead on this. At some point, we will simply go our own way and get way out in front.''
``We want to offer a positive solution to federal and state legislators well before the end of the year,'' he said. ``The leadership, as well as the staff of the International Bottled Water Federation, is working hard to form a consensus. There already is a strong consensus that that we don't need to be reactive. We need to proactive.''
Franklin expressed the concern, however, that while the bottled-water industry is prepared to support a bottle bill, the major bottled-water producers ``seem to have joined forces with the beer and soda companies to continue their war on bottle bills'' at least indirectly.
Beverage producers and the National Recycling Coalition Inc. of Washington recently formed the National Recycling Partnership to offer grants for pilot single-stream curbside programs in states where new and expanded bottle bills are pending.
``It's a veiled attempt to sabotage bottle-bill proposals and will likely succeed in keeping bottle bills bottled up,'' Franklin said. ``Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of beverage bottles and cans are littered or landfilled every day more than 50 billion so far this year.''
It is Speed's belief that mandates are needed to change recycling levels.
``Without mandates, we are just not going to get recycling done at a high level,'' he said. ``We are a capital-intensive industry. Unless you put a mandate on it, or a price tag, it is not going to happen.
The Mountain Valley CEO pointed to countries, like Japan and Norway, that have made recycling mandatory, and how Sweden has reduced its trash by 50 percent.
``It all has to do with the willpower of our political leaders,'' Speed said. ``Mandated recycling would make a huge difference, not just with water bottles, but paper recycling and recycling of other materials as well. We ought to be capturing more of this stuff.''
Besides, he said, mandated recycling would ``generate new jobs because we would have all this material to process if you have mounds of material available.''
He suggested that the best approach for a bottle bill is one that uses independent redemption centers rather than mandates that retailers establish redemption centers and forces distributors to engage in costly reverse logistics in picking up returned bottles. ``A lot of retailers would probably apply, but it wouldn't be mandatory,'' he said.
``There is a lot of opposition to a national bottle bill,'' Speed admitted. ``But it is preferable to have a single national system than have it legislated on a state-by-state basis. That would be a nightmare.'' He added that he's convinced a state-by-state approach will emerge without national legislation.
As for how much the deposit should be, he said he isn't wedded to a specific amount. ``I think if you listen to the people at the CRI, they think a higher deposit works best,'' he said. ``I'm willing to entertain a conversation about this. Let's just move forward.
``Our industry needs to get out front with a real solution to recycling or face a troubled future.''