Someone from the plastics industry once commented to me that “you can’t recycle it if you can’t get your hands on it.” The American Beverage Association (ABA; Washington, DC) announced that America’s leading beverage companies—the Coca-Cola Co., Keurig Dr Pepper and PepsiCo—have initiated a “breakthrough” effort to increase recycling rates and reduce the use of virgin resin by increasing collection of the industry’s valuable plastic bottles to make into new bottles.
The goal is stated in the name of the initiative—Every Bottle Back—that will support the circular plastics economy by reinforcing to consumers the value of their 100% recyclable plastic bottles and caps and ensuring they don’t end up as waste in oceans, rivers or landfills, said the announcement.
This program is being executed in conjunction with two of the country’s most prominent environmental nonprofits and the leading investment firm focused on development of the circular economy. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) will provide strategic scientific advice to help measure the industry’s progress in reducing its plastic footprint and The Recycling Partnership and Closed Loop Partners will assist in deploying funds for the initiative.
“Our industry recognizes the serious need to reduce new plastic in our environment, and we want to do our part to lead with innovative solutions,” said Katherine Lugar, ABA President and CEO. “Our bottles are designed to be remade, and that is why this program is so important. We are excited to partner with the leading environmental and recycling organizations to build a circular system for the production, use, recovery and remaking of our bottles. Every Bottle Back will ensure that our plastic bottles are recovered after use and remade into new bottles, so we can reduce the amount of new plastic used to bring our beverages to market. This is an important step for our industry, and it builds on our ongoing commitment to protecting the environment for generations to come.”
The Every Bottle Back initiative includes measuring industry progress in reducing the use of new plastic in the United States through collaboration with ReSource: Plastic, WWF’s corporate activation hub to help companies turn their ambitious plastic waste commitments into meaningful and measurable progress by rethinking the way plastic material is produced, used and recycled.
The initiative also will strive to improve the quality and availability of recycled plastic in key regions of the country by directing the equivalent of $400 million to The Recycling Partnership and Closed Loop Partners through a new $100 million industry fund that will be matched three-to-one by other grants and investors. The investments will be used to improve sorting, processing and collection in areas with the biggest recycling infrastructure gaps.
Keefe Harrison, CEO of The Recycling Partnership, commented: “The beverage industry cannot deliver on its promise of sustainable packaging without serious improvements to the current U.S. recycling system. Working in partnership with the beverage industry on its Every Bottle Back initiative will help to improve local recycling and provide Americans with stronger recycling programs for all materials, including plastic bottles.”
In an Oct. 25, 2019, interview with BBC News’ Business Editor Simon Jack (“In the war on plastic, is Coca-Cola friend or foe?”), Coca-Cola’s Global Chief Executive James Quincey definitively stated that he’s a friend, and that while the company has a long way to go in recovering and recycling its estimated 100 billion plastic bottles a year, Quincey conceded that the company “has no plans to reduce its own use of plastics.”
However, he added, “we aim to recover every bottle for every one we sell by 2030. And then use 50% of them back into our own bottles.” He stated that “50% of its new plastic bottles will come from recycled bottles.” Currently, Quincey told BBC News that the company has recovered 59% of its bottles, and uses 9% of its bottles back in new bottles.
Why can’t 100% of the bottles be recycled into new Coke bottles? Quincey responded to that question by noting that Coca-Cola competes with many other industries for recycled plastic.
We in the industry know that one of the obstacles to meeting demand for recycled PET (rPET) is a lack of good, clean post-consumer PET bottles. Another problem remains the complexity of curbside recycling and getting people to recycle properly. Quincey is correct in stating that there is a lot of competition for rPET.
To help with those challenges, the Every Bottle Back initiative plans to launch a public awareness campaign to help consumers understand the value of 100% recyclable bottles through community outreach and partner engagement.
According to a poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies on behalf of the ABA, nearly half of consumers surveyed were unaware that America’s leading beverage companies are already making bottles that are 100% recyclable, including the caps. The new initiative aims for the companies to work together to leverage their packaging to remind consumers that its bottles are 100% recyclable and can be remade into new bottles. Beverage companies will begin introducing voluntary messaging on packages beginning in late 2020.
Almost everyone I interview on this topic agrees with the fact that recycling of PET is absolutely the best way to handle one of the best materials being used in packaging today. They unanimously agree that recycling beats other solutions such as bioplastics, biodegradable plastics and compostable plastics.
As the ABA noted in its announcement, PET is a strong, lightweight and safe plastic approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in food and beverage containers.
“At PepsiCo, we are striving to build a world where plastics need never become waste,” said Kirk Tanner, CEO, PepsiCo Beverages North America. “We are proud to collaborate with others in the industry and respected partners to advance that vision and to do the hard work needed to educate consumers, enable collections and inspire action to recycle our plastic bottles. More recycled plastic lessens the need for new plastic.”
Image: Piman Khrutmuang/Adobe Stock