As state governments curtail bottle bill collection efforts during the coronavirus pandemic, a coalition of packaging material groups, including for PET bottles, is urging those states to protect the programs because they provide essential raw materials for packaging.
The National Association for PET Container Resources and three other industry associations issued a statement April 20 asking state governments to make safe redemption and return options available.
The call comes as some governments and local redemption centers have scaled back bottle return operations, citing concerns over protecting workers and consumers from the coronavirus.
The business groups are getting involved because companies that use recycled content say that bottle bill systems often provide cleaner streams of materials and have higher recycling rates than curbside systems.
"Beverage container deposit programs are essential to preserve the supply of post-consumer recycled PET," said Darrel Collier, executive director of the National Association for PET Container Resources, in the statement.
"By incorporating post-consumer recycled PET in the production of new bottles, significant environmental savings are achieved, while continuing to work toward achieving content commitments by leading brand owners."
The informal coalition also includes the Aluminum Association, the Can Manufacturers Institute and the Glass Packaging Institute.
While there's mostly anecdotal information on the impact thus far, the early indications from PET reclaimers are not good, said Laura Stewart, communications director for NAPCOR.
In Michigan, PET bottles from deposit systems are "nonexistent" and in California, there are reports of volumes dropping 60 to 70 percent, she said.
"While we realize that some of the shortage may be short term, we are concerned that states may see this as an opportunity to make permanent changes to their programs," Stewart said. "This action also creates confusion among consumers, who are uncertain what they should do with their PET beverage bottles."
The informal coalition said it recognized the safety measures that need to be put in place, but it said in its statement it had "reached out to leadership in several states with beverage container deposit programs, urging safe redemption and return options be made available for consumers."
The coalition tied its efforts into federal government guidelines around what are essential industries during the coronavirus pandemic, including food packaging.
It said it wanted to "emphasize the critical role that the recycled bottles and cans redeemed and returned through the country's 10 beverage container deposit programs play in the supply chains of essential packaging."
An April 2 letter from the coalition to Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer asks that collections under the state's deposit program be quickly reinstated in a way that meets social distancing and the coronavirus safety requirements.
The groups also asked that the state government communicate that Michigan's beverage container redemption program has not been repealed and remains state law.
"We understand the significant pressure on many of the retail and grocery outlets, as they keep pace with customer demand, and at the same time, protect the health of their workforce," the letter said. It argued that returns can be done through reverse vending machines, with little or no contact between people.
"There is no evidence that COVID-19 is spread or communicated through the population when beverage containers are returned and/or redeemed through the program," the group said.