Plastic bottle recycling fails to keep up with increasing sales: Wasting up by 136 thousand tons

For Immediate Release
December 8, 2006

Contact:
Pat Franklin (703) 304-3546
Jenny Gitlitz (413) 684-4746

Plastic bottle recycling fails to keep up with increasing sales:
Wasting up by 136 thousand tons

Washington, DC (December 8, 2006) — The Container Recycling Institute (CRI), a non-profit environmental group that studies container sales and recycling trends, notes that the recent increase in the recycling rate for PET plastic bottles pale in comparison to the increase in trashed plastic bottles.

According toCRI, 2005 data relesased recently by the Sonoma, California based National Association of Plastic Container Resources (NAPCOR) showed that the volume of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles recycled in 2005 rose to 1,170 million lbs and the recycling rate increased 1.4 percentage points, from 21.6% to 23.1%. --167 million pounds more than were recycled in 2004.

“This slight increase is certainly better than a decline,” said CRI executive director Pat Franklin, “but it was not the increase needed to reverse the wasting trend. At 23.1% the rate is far below the 39.7% recycling rate the industry achieved back in 1995. Franklin also noted that the volume of PET used to make new food and beverage containers decreased last year. “With the Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo committing to using 10% recycled content in their PET bottles, it’s difficult to understand this decline,” she added.

CRI research director Jenny Gitlitz said, “While PET bottle recycling rose by 167 million lbs last year, wasting increased by 271million lbs (or 136 thousand tons) during the same period. We’re now trashing almost 2 million tons of PET annually: up from 588 thousand tons wasted a decade ago. Wasting this much PET is bad for the environment; it’s a tremendous and unnecessary waste of a petroleum product,” she added. According to Gitlitz, “About 18 million barrels of crude oil equivalent went down the drain last year when these 2 million tons of PET bottles were landfilled instead of recycled.”

Franklin attributed the slow rate of recycling increase to the inability of current recycling programs to keep up with the rapid pace of increasing beverage sales.

“Bottled water sales have skyrocketed for over 5 years, from 3.3 billion in 1997 to an estimated 26 billion in 2005, and show no signs of slowing,” she said. “Sales of other beverages packaged in PET—sports drinks, teas, and juices—are increasing, too. Total PET bottle sales have risen from 2 million pounds in 1995 to 5 million pounds in 2005.”

“But it’s not just the number of additional beverages sold,” Franklin explained, “it’s the location: vending machines in schools and other public spaces, convenience stores, etc. These containers purchased for consumption away from home cannot be captured by residential curbside recycling programs.”

Franklin added that the industry has historically opposed container deposit laws, or “bottle bills,” which provide powerful consumer incentives to recycle. In the eleven states that have bottle bills, PET containers that have a nickel or dime refund value are recycled at rates that are 3 to 4 times the rate in the 39 non-bottle bill states.

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