The beverage container industry continues to fight state and national container legislation despite evidence that such laws could contribute significantly to greenhouse gas reduction while providing energy, recycling and litter control benefits. The industry says community recycling programs, which put the cost burden on communities rather than container manufacturers, are a superior system for processing bottles and cans.
The latest weapon in the industry’s arsenal is a report commissioned by itself; the American Beverage Association (ABA) that says bottles, cans and packages made by its members are easily recyclable because community recycling programs that can handle them serve an overwhelming majority of Americans. Getting more consumers to capitalize on the programs, the study suggests, is the best way to recycle the containers.
But it’s not that simple.
The study suggests “there is a high level of curbside and drop-off recycling available” and that 85% of Americans have access to container materials collection. The survey of counties representing 214.7 million Americans found that 73% have access to curbside recycling and 83% to drop-off recycling.
In its October 29 news release announcing the survey findings, ABA said it commissioned the study “to determine how many consumers have access to recycling of beverage containers so that it can continue to support efforts to improve access to the most convenient and efficient methods of recycling.” ABA says elsewhere on its web site that “three decades of data and practical experience have undeniably demonstrated that imposing mandatory deposits on beverage containers is a poor way to increase recycling and address solid waste issues.” ABA’s members would be required to take back containers under additional state deposit laws or a national deposit law.
But the Container Recycling Institute, a longtime advocate of deposit legislation, notes that states with bottle deposit laws have a beverage container recycling rate of around 60%, while non-deposit states only reach about 24%. CRI and other deposit supporters say in addition to benefits long ascribed to deposit legislation, the higher recycling rates achieved by such laws increase greenhouse gas reduction benefits as well.
Recycling decreases the use of materials with high lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions, decreases burning of fossil-derived wastes such as plastics, reduces the emissions of methane from landfills, and recovers energy generated during the combustion of wastes and methane at disposal sites.
The State Environmental Resource Center says existing state deposit systems have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by over 4 million metric tons equivalent.
The province of Alberta’s deposit system reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 128,530 MTCE in 2008, according to a report by its Beverage Container Management Board.
Eleven U.S. states have container laws – Hawaii, California, Oregon, Iowa, Michigan, New York, Vermont, Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Delaware.
In April 2009, two members of Congress reintroduced national container deposit legislation as part of a greenhouse gas reduction strategy. The beverage industry attacked the proposed law.
In a 2008 report, the corporate responsibility watchdog As You Sow gave no higher than a “C” grade to any of the nation’s largest beverage companies for recycling practices. The report noted that the national recycling rate in the U.S. has dropped since 1992 from 55% to 33%, but the average rate of recycling for states with mandatory deposits is 70%.
“More than 200 billion beverage containers are sold in the U.S. each year, but over 130 billion of those are still sent to landfills and incinerated, representing a huge waste of natural resources,” the group said.
If the beverage containers that were wasted the previous year had been recycled, the As You Sow report said, 15.6 million metric tons of greenhouse gases would have been avoided – the equivalent to emissions from 36.2 million barrels of oil – equal to 52 days of oil imports from Iraq.
Representatives of the beverage industry tout a 2008 Rhode Island study in support of their anti-deposit position. The study estimated that expanding community recycling programs would reduce greenhouse gas emissions 17,000 metric tons carbon equivalent, while a new deposit law would provide only 9,700 metric tons reduction. But an Oregon study estimated a 20-year, 2-million-ton carbon emission reduction if a tougher deposit law was implemented there.
The ABA release also deflects attention from the deposit alternative for climate change benefits by quoting Kate Krebs, director of sustainable resources at The Climate Group: “Recycling is a powerful climate change strategy for cities and counties that provides substantial environmental and economic benefits, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It is critical that parallel access along with other simple best management practices as highlighted through Recycle Together be integrated in every community so that we realize the maximum benefits of sustainable materials management.”
Recycle Together is a Climate Group initiative that acknowledges the role of solid waste management in the climate problem. “The 85 million tons of municipal solid waste recycled in 2007, alone, reduced GHG emissions by 193 million metric tons of CO2 equivalents. That contribution is the same as removing 35 million cars from the road.”
The Recycle Together website is festooned with the logos of Coca-Cola, Pepsico and Nestle Waters, among others.
Photo credit: Oregon State Library.