Refillable glass beverage bottles have been phased out in the United States, with small exceptions for local micro-brew beers and specialty soda brands, comprising less than 1% of the national market.
In other parts of the world, however, refillable beverage containers are going strong. In Ontario, for example, 95% of the beer sold is packaged in refillable glass bottles. Refillable beverage bottles are also common in many European and South American countries.
Many are considerably different from the heavy glass bottles you may remember from your youth—if you’re over 50, that is! In Scandinavia and Germany, refillable PET plastic bottles for water, soda, juice, and beer, are sturdy, attractive, and accommodate a variety of beverage types.
Bringing refillables back in the U.S. would be a huge challenge, since the industry is so centralized, but it is a battle well worth fighting for the environmental benefits.
We call on the U.S. beverage and packaging industries to join us in adopting Zero Beverage Container Waste goals.
In 1998,the Aluminum Association, a Washington trade group, adopted a goal of recycling 75% of all aluminum cans sold in the U.S. Unfortunately, the industry has fallen far short of that goal (the aluminum can recycling rate was 45% in 2004), and little has been heard about it since.
Under pressure from the recycling community and socially responsible investor groups, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo adopted 10% recycled content goals in 2001 and 2002. This means that they pledged that the plastic bottles they buy would contain at least 10% reclaimed PET bottles, instead of virgin plastic resin. Neither company has agreed to adopt recycling goals. Other trade organizations and beverage companies have not publicly adopted specific recycling goals.
We call on all beverage companies, and their major trade associations (see links below), to adopt aggressive recycling and waste reduction goals, to set dates by which these goals should be achieved, and to put forth programmatic plans for doing so. We recognize that these industries have traditionally opposed bottle bills (or “forced deposit” programs), so we call on them to institute their own voluntary programs—of any sort—that will be as effective at container recycling as deposit systems have been for 35 years.
Container waste reduction goals and target dates should also be adopted by the National Recycling Coalition, which has led the major beverage brand owners in a recent dialogue on falling container recycling rates , and by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Solid Waste, whose Resource Conservation Challenge has targeted beverage containers for increased recovery, but has not yet set goals or dates.
Major brand owners :
Trade associations :
Spread the word about container recycling and reuse. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, when the nation was in the grip of a “landfill crisis,” a great deal of state, local, corporate, and non-profit money was spent to implement and publicize new recycling programs, and to raise the public’s consciousness about recycling in general. This outpouring has slowed to a trickle, however, in light of agency budget shortfalls and dwindling public and media interest.
It is important for everyone who cares about reducing beverage container waste to urge entities who can conduct formal recycling education to do so. States, cities, garbage companies, and many others need to put more money into social marketing so that the recycling message does not die. Recycling should also continue to be worked into school curricula wherever possible.
Informal education —or “viral marketing”—is also important. Talk to your friends and neighbors about recycling; talk to your co-workers and building management about office recycling; talk to the School Board about recycling in your child’s school district.
At least a third of all packaged beverage consumption takes place outside the home, yet public space recycling opportunities are scarce in most states. We must promote recycling opportunities wherever food and beverages are sold: in airports, malls, offices, restaurants & hotels, schools, parks, stadiums, concerts, and other public places. The question, as always, is who should pay for these programs. There is a growing movement toward producer responsibility, where those companies that sell the product take responsibility for the product or package at the end of its life.
Deposit/Return systems place a small, fully-refundable deposit (a nickel or a dime) on bottles and cans. When consumers return their empties to a redemption/recycling center, supermarket, or “reverse vending machine,” their deposits are refunded. For most of the 20th century, soda and beer companies voluntarily operated deposit-return systems as a fail-safe way to get their valuable glass bottles back for washing and refilling. These systems were gradually phased out as bottling and distribution became centralized in the 1960s and 1970s. As the quantity and variety of one-way beverage container sales proliferated, so did ugly bottle and can litter.
To address the growing litter problem, in 1971, Oregon became the first state to adopt a mandatory deposit law with a nickel deposit on beer and soda. Vermont, Maine, Iowa, and Michigan followed suit in the 70’s, and Connecticut, Delaware, New York, and Massachusetts adopted deposit laws (also called “bottle bills”) from 1980-1983, followed by California in 1986. During the sixteen-year hiatus which followed, dozens of states tried to pass bottle bills but were defeated by opposition from the well-funded beverage and grocery lobbies. Finally in 2002, Hawaii became the 11th U.S. state to pass a bottle bill.
Bottle bill states have achieved beverage container recycling rates of 70% to 95%, in contrast to the national average of only 35%, which is itself pulled up by the deposit states. The non-deposit states have an average container recycling rate of about 22%, according to the BEAR study in 2002. Deposit-return systems are the most successful recycling programs in the country. They are proven to achieve high recycling rates at no taxpayer expense.
The political obstacles to passing more bottles are formidable, but activists and public and elected officials in at least a dozen states are expected pass a new state law, or to update an existing law to cover non-carbonated beverages in 2006. The beverage, retail, and packaging industries oppose mandatory deposits, and have thus far shown no interest in adopting a voluntary deposit system, as in they did in the past.