More than two-thirds of the 23 leading U.S. beverage bottlers still have a grade of F on the second recycling score card issued by As You Sow even though it has been more than two years since the first score card was issued.
Only four companies Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo, Nestle Waters North America Inc. and Anheuser-Busch Cos. received grades higher than D on the report released Dec. 17, with Coke receiving an overall grade of C and the other three C-. In general, beverage companies scored poorest on the transparency of their efforts and on recovery and recycling initiatives.
The report is designed to give investors a tool to measure steps taken by firms to reduce container packaging and increase recycling. San Francisco-based nonprofit group As You Sow repre- sents institutional shareholders to promote socially and environmentally responsible policies.
Nestle Waters, which received an F in the first score card, made the most improvement of any beverage company, the report said.
``They have gone from not paying attention, to having the lightest weight bottle in the industry,'' Amy Galland, author of the report and research director for As You Sow, said in a phone interview Dec. 15.
The first report ``got our attention and encouraged us to look at the recycling challenge more broadly,'' said Alex McIntosh, director of corporate citizenship at Nestle Waters. He said Nestle has been ``campaigning for stronger municipal recycling to make it easier for people to recycle and collect all consumer plastic packaging,'' and is working with ``a variety of recycling stakeholders'' to double PET beverage container recycling rates to 60 percent or greater by 2018.
Beverage companies received the highest grades in reducing the weight of its containers.
``The long-term commitment by a number of beverage companies to source reduction'' is encouraging, said Galland. The report said that Coca-Cola appears to have the lightest 20-ounce carbonated soda bottle and that Nestle Waters uses the least amount of packaging per unit of beverage with its Eco-Shape bottle.
The shape of things
But the report found a multitude of things at beverage companies that need improvement.
For example, it said that although Fiji Water has the highest specifically stated weight-reduction goal of 20 percent by 2010, even with that reduction, the company would still have the ``heaviest water bottle per ounce of beverage in the industry'' almost three times that of Nestle Waters' Eco-Shape bottle.
The report also pointed out that Dr. Pepper provided the least amount of beverage per gram of packaging in its 20-ounce bottle and that Starbucks' Ethos water brand and Fiji Water provide the least amount of water per gram of packaging.
``The most discouraging thing is the lack of industry action toward improving recycling rates or establishing nationwide goals for recycling,'' said Galland. ``That is an area where no one is doing well except for Nestle Waters.
``The other discouraging thing would be the lack of recycled content'' in beverage bottles, she said. ``Most companies don't seem to be trying that hard and are just paying lip service to it rather than doing something about it.''
The 11 states with bottle-deposit bills have average recycling rates of 70 percent more than twice as high as the nationwide container recycling rate of 33 percent, said the report, based on information from the Container Recycling Institute in Glastonbury, Conn. The nationwide recycling rate for PET was 25.4 percent in 2007 and the nationwide recycling rate for high density polyethylene was 20 percent in 2006.
``The industry continues to fight bottle bills that are working,'' said Galland. ``If they are going to lobby against a method that is proven, I would like to see an alternative from them that will get recycling rates above 70 percent.''
Galland applauded Nestle Waters And Fiji Water for saying that they would support legislation designed to increase recycling of all containers, and Nestle, for announcing in October that it has a goal to achieve an industry-wide recycling rate of 60 percent for PET containers by 2018.
``At this time, no other beverage companies have expressed support for nationwide [recycling] policies or container-deposit legislation,'' said the report. ``This lack of support and, in many cases, continued lobbying against container deposit legislation has had significant negative impacts on the recycling rate in the U.S. The American Beverage Association has shown little leadership on this issue and the Beverage Packaging Environment Council took a detour last year from developing a national recycling goal'' by focusing its efforts elsewhere.
The Nestle effect
But Galland is hoping Nestle Waters' publicly stated goal might nudge others into action.
``Now he has to do something,'' said Galland, referring to Kim Jeffery, president and chief executive officer of Nestle Waters. ``Once you put a goal like that out there in the public, it becomes a real target,'' she said. ``The challenge will be to be to encourage other beverage makers to participate and create the strategies to implement these goals.''
With regard to recycled content in plastic bottles, Galland said that PepsiCo remains the leader, using 10 percent content for its PET containers a target it has achieved since 2005.
However, despite a similar pledge, Coca-Cola Co. has retreated to just 3 percent recycled content in its PET bottles, according to the report.
Still, Coca-Cola received the highest overall grade because it ranked second in transparency, third among all beverage companies in source reduction, and because of its investment in a $45 million PET recycling plant in Spartanburg, S.C. That plant started operations in October and is scheduled to produce 100 million pounds of recycled resin by the end of 2009. It is the sixth such plant for the company, but its first in the U.S.
``That is the highest investment in container recycling in the industry and speaks positively for them,'' Galland said.
In an e-mail response to Plastics News, a Coca-Cola spokesman agreed that more needs to be done to increase recycling rates in the U.S., and he highlighted the company's Spartanburg project.
``But we can only be successful by working in partnership with business, [non-governmental organizations], government leaders, and communities,'' said Coca-Cola, which has set a goal to recycle and reuse 100 percent of the bottles and cans it uses in the U.S. market, but without a specific time frame. In 2008, Coca-Cola said, it has recycled 94 million pounds of PET bottles and 106 million pounds of aluminum cans.
The As You Sow report said that 130 billion of the 200 billion beverage containers used annually in the U.S. are not recycled. If they were recycled, it would reduce oil use by 36 million barrels and reduce greenhouse gases by 15.6 million metric tons annually, the report said.
Only seven of the 23 companies evaluated by As You Sow returned the survey for the report, which is called ``Waste and Opportunity: U.S. Beverage Container Recycling Scorecard and Report.'' However, those seven companies control 74 percent of the U.S. carbonated soft drink market, more than 60 percent of the U.S. bottled-water market and almost 50 percent of the U.S. beer industry.
To minimize the use of natural resources and address climate concerns, the report recommends that beverage companies:
* Commit to source reduction and improved recyclability of beverage containers.
* Commit to using the highest possible levels of recycled content.
* Commit to measurable, sustainable, national and company-specific goals to recover at least 70 percent of beverage containers.
* Support public policies that significantly increase recycling of beverage containers.
* Commit sufficient human and financial resources to be able to deliver on beverage container recycling commitments.
* Publicly report on their beverage container recycling progress each year.