Recycling drops for plastic and aluminum
Americans are discarding beverage bottles and cans in record numbers, according to the Container Recycling Institute (CRI). Analyzing seven years of data, the Arlington, Va.-based research and education organization published its findings last fall, in CRI’s Container and Packaging Recycling Update.
The institute reports that, from 1992 to 1998, the national recycling rate for beverage containers — including soft drink, beer, wine, spirits, water, juice, tea and sports drink cans and bottles — dropped from 53.8 percent to 44.7 percent. In 1998 alone, more than 94 billion of the containers were thrown away.
Pat Franklin, CRI’s executive director, says the drop in recycling can be attributed largely to on-the-go sales and consumption practices. “Increasingly, these containers are being purchased and consumed away from home,” she notes. “In states that don’t have a container deposit law, the only way to capture the containers is through curbside recycling. But, if they’re consumed away from home, the opportunity to put them in the curbside bin is lost.”
Franklin notes that states with deposit laws consistently outperform non-deposit states when it comes to recycling. Even so, the deposit states are experiencing declines as well, suggesting that higher deposits are necessary to maintain recycling rates for beverage containers. “In today’s economy, there are many people who aren’t interested in getting a nickel for a container — or even 30 cents for six containers,” Franklin says.
Collection systems, too, are contributing to the problem, albeit on a smaller scale than portability and the economy. Even in cities where curbside pickup is available, the bottles and cans are collected together, leading to contamination. “Glass may be broken, or the plastic and aluminum may have glass embedded in them,” Franklin explains. “And that means you have some materials that really can’t be recycled.”
What a waste
Beverage containers, 1992-1998
Sales of beverages in PET plastic containers grew from 12 billion in 1992 to 34.6 billion in 1998, representing an increase of 190 percent. Waste from all PET plastic bottles grew 210 percent in the same period, while waste from PET custom bottles (e.g., those for water, juice, sports drinks and other non-carbonated beverages) increased 400 percent.
Sales of beverages packaged in aluminum grew 10 percent, from 92.4 billion cans in 1992 to 102 billion cans in 1998. At the same time, waste for aluminum beverage containers increased 44 percent, reaching 46 billion cans in 1998.
From 1992 to 1998, sales of glass beverage containers increased just 2 percent, while recycling grew 17 percent. Beer bottles comprise 71 percent of glass beverage packaging, and, since beer is generally consumed at home or in commercial establishments, opportunities for recycling are well established.
Source: Container Recycling Institute, Arlington, Va.