Supporters of a national bottle bill see this as a "strange bedfellows" moment for their cause, with opportunities to build alliances between businesses desperate for more recycled feedstocks and environmentalists who see recycling as a tool to fight climate change.
That sentiment was on display at a Feb. 23 webinar, where representatives of plastics, glass and metal packaging and recycling industries joined environmental groups in praising deposit return systems as an effective tool to double U.S. bottle recycling rates.
"We want to build an army to push for the national bottle bill, which will be introduced soon," said Heidi Sanborn, director of the National Stewardship Action Council, which organized the webinar.
Her group is planning a March 31 lobbying day in Washington for a national bottle bill.
A parade of industry representatives — the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR), the Glass Packaging Institute, the Can Manufacturers Institute, machinery supplier Atlantic Packaging and bottled water maker Blue Triton — said they'd welcome more bottle bills, which put a refundable deposit, typically a nickel or dime, on beverage containers to incentivize recycling.
But it wasn't clear if all the groups would necessarily back the March 31 Washington lobbying day.
One environmental group among the dozen organizations that spoke, for example, said privately it wanted to see specifics around any national legislation before committing.
But sentiment was strong among the participants that governments should take a serious look at bottle bills, which passed in a wave in states in the 1970s and 1980s but have proven much more politically problematic since then.
"We are in strong support of state and national bottle bills," said Kate Bailey, APR policy director. "Our biggest challenge right now is a lack of supply. We cannot get enough PET water bottles and soda bottles to recycle.
"Our members have the capacity, the actual infrastructure right now to recycle 50 percent more bottles than we collect," she said, adding that plastic recyclers in APR expect demand to triple in coming years because of recycled-content commitments from companies.
The head of Atlantic Packaging, a $1 billion supplier of equipment to the plastic and paper industries, said the topic was personal for him.
"I'm an avid outdoor person and over my life I've watched the proliferation of plastic pollution and litter get worse and worse and worse," said CEO Wes Carter. "There was just a moment for me where I realized I was part of a supply chain that was creating these problems."
He said Atlantic Packaging helped start the New Earth Project, a collaboration of outdoor enthusiasts and packaging companies to tackle plastic and litter pollution.
"I have felt like for a long time our industry, the packaging industry, in connection with the consumer products industry and the retail industry, they basically had an intentional blind spot where we were not acknowledging the impact we were having," Carter said.
From a business standpoint, he said bottle bills create cleaner streams of recycled feedstock to be made into new products, a point echoed by other plastics, glass and metals industry representatives on the webinar.