Experts agree promotion, education and consumer participation are critical to boost recycling
The reality, however, is that recycling has been spiraling downward since 1995 when the recycling rate was almost 40%. According to the National Association for PET Container Resources’ (NAPCOR) annual recycling report, the number of bottles collected and sold for recycling in the U.S. decreased by 0.3% from 19.9% in 2002 to 19.6% in 2003.
Dennis Sabourin, executive director for NAPCOR, a facilitator and promoter of PET packaging and recycling in the U.S. and Canada, said, “Recycling has been a very tough situation because the bloom is off the environmental rose. We continue to look for new and different ways to deal with this issue but it has been, and continues to be, an uphill battle.”
The most predominant effort today is curbside recycling, but access away from home is the key issue industry officials believe requires further attention. The number of bottles consumed away from home or on-the-go is substantial and access to recycling bins is slim in venues such as sports stadiums, restaurants, offices and public transportation stations.
According to Stephen Kay, vice president of communications for the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA), “The away from home infrastructure needs to be looked at and enhanced because there is a market for it. If the infrastructure is built, recycling will come.”
Deposit/return systems, such as bottle bills, are considered one of the nation’s most effective container recovery programs. According to the Container Recycling Institute, in 1999, the 10 deposit states, with a total population of 81.6 million, recycled 32.6 billion containers through deposit systems, while the remaining 40 states, with a total population of 199.9 million, recycled 25.4 billion containers through curbside programs.
Consumer awareness and support by local and state governments is yet another important factor in today’s lagging recycling rate. “The recycling rate is so low because the priorities of state and local money are forever-dwindling and aimed elsewhere,” Sabourin explained.
In 2004, California increased its recycling rate from 10.5 to 12 billion recovered containers. The state’s increase in refund values, recycling awareness campaigns and public access to recycling containers facilitated this growth.
The recycling challenge is an industry-wide effort, and NAPCOR and IBWA are merely two of the many associations and companies tackling the issue head on. Both associations actively contribute efforts by providing members with educational materials and collection tools; promoting awareness; monitoring recycling initiatives; and researching and encouraging new solutions.
IBWA is currently compiling a recycling guidebook for its members, to be released during the fall of 2005. The guidebook will outline specific options of how members can get involved and encourage recycling in their facilities and communities. Kay feels that every small step the association makes will help facilitate recycling. One such step is always providing recycling receptacles that are clearly labeled with the recycling chasing arrows and IBWA logo at its members’ events.
Although NAPCOR works chiefly with PET manufacturer members, the association extends its insight to non-member beverage brand owners and communities as well.
“Coke and Pepsi, non-members we work very closely with, are brand owners who have made commitments to use recycled content in their containers,” Sabourin said. “Members of our association are suppliers for those companies, and it is to our benefit to get behind and assist these brand owners to reach their recycling goals.”
The integration of recycled material into PET package manufacturing is a relatively new development in the industry, and Sabourin considers it an excellent way to divert material from landfills and conserve energy.
Amcor PET Packaging, an international packaging company and NAPCOR member, incorporates recycled PET material into its food and non-food contact packaging when possible, said Shelley Steele, communications director for Amcor PET Packaging. Amcor developed SuperCycle technology, the first mono-layered mechanically reprocessed PET, in 1994.
The demand for post consumer PET bottles is rising as numerous industries seek to use the recycled material for various applications, including, carpet, fiber, auto parts and bottle-to-bottle applications.
Ball Corp., an international provider of metal and plastic packaging for beverages and foods, continuously works toward reducing waste by recycling the materials used in the manufacturing process; providing recycling containers wherever food and/or beverages are purchased or consumed at its facilities; and actively working with several recycling and industry trade organizations, such as NAPCOR.
The company also provides funding and leadership in the development of recycling programs and initiatives. Ball recently partnered with Coors Brewing Co. to give local communities a place to recycle by funding recycling drop-off centers.
There is no-one-remedy-cures-all approach to recycling, but most industry officials feel that recycling rates would improve if consumers had access to recycling bins away from home.
The continued campaign for more bottle bills is another promising solution for state-to-state recycling rates. Currently, 10 states have bottle bills in the works, and the industry’s support is needed to further this legislation.
NAPCOR’s 2004 Post Consumer Container Recycling Report is to be released in September, and according to Sabourin, the recycling lag has continued to deepen. The report will be available on NAPCOR’s website at www.napcor.com.
As prices of raw materials, such as oil, continue to rise in today’s inflated marketplace, natural resources will continue to deplete, and the need for recycling will only become more dire. Both Sabourin and Kay agree that promotion, education and most importantly consumer participation are critical to boost recycling. wqp