A soft drink manufacturers lobbying group announced a new initiative last week that will promote the recycling of plastic bottles, helping to alleviate a pollution problem the manufacturers themselves helped create.
For the American Beverage Association's Every Bottle Back initiative, the Coca-Cola Company, Keurig Dr Pepper and PepsiCo will work with sustainability organizations to educate the public, help improve operations at existing facilities, track recycling efforts and spend $3 million in the DFW area.
“[Our goal] at the end of the day is to reduce the use of plastic in our industry,” said Joshua Baca, senior vice president of public affairs for the American Beverage Association.
The new program will present Balcones Material Recovery Facility, a recycling processing operation in Farmers Branch, with $2 million to upgrade their facilities. Most of the rest of the money will go to private recycling companies for collection services and to educating the public, said Cody Marshall, a spokesman for the Recycling Partnership, one of the organizations working with the beverage association.
Under a new city of Dallas ordinance that went into effect Jan. 1, all apartment complexes with more than eight units are required to provide recycling facilities for all residents and arrange to have the recycled items collected. The implementation of the program has been slow. Part of the beverage association's support will go to private recycling entities that offer recycling hauling services, Marshall said.
But, while the efforts might accomplish a little bit, the potential for widespread change is limited, said Corey Troiani, program director for the Texas Campaign for the Environment.
“These are some of the biggest single-use plastic giants, and they're putting pennies on the dollar toward what they should to reduce plastic waste,” Troiani said.
According to an audit of plastic pollution done by Break Free From Plastic, a coalition of organizations seeking to reduce single-use plastic consumption, Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo are first and third respectively on the list of the world's biggest producers of the plastic bottles that end up polluting the earth's ground and water.
“All it does is prop up their corporate image in the most important years that we have to reduce the climate crisis,” Troiani said.
The beverage association picked DFW for the program because the area has a high level of recycling contamination, meaning bins of recycling contain large quantities of non-recyclable materials. The idea of the program is to collect the bottles that the industry is producing, Baca said.
But while increased access and education can help, Troiani said that to elicit a significant reduction in plastic bottle pollution, he'd like to see the plastic assigned monetary value. Ten states in the country charge between 5 and 15 cents more for plastic, glass and metal bottles. Those bottles can be returned to a designated facility for a refund.
“And then suddenly all these bottles on the ground are worth something,” Troiani said.
A 2018 study published in Marine Policy indicates that the amount of plastic found discarded along coastlines is 40% lower in states with bottle refund programs than in those without.
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But for decades, major beverage companies have lobbied against state and national bottle bills, reports The Intercept. Since 1987, only one state bottle bill has passed, according to a New York Times piece on the issue.
Plastic has a limited recyclable lifetime. Each time a bottle is recycled, the plastic weakens, and after two or three rounds, it's no longer possible to keep reusing the plastic for containers. By contrast, metal and glass are infinitely recyclable.
Troiani said he would prefer to see the bottle industry investing in systemic solutions, like packaging materials, nationwide solutions and labeling that makes it easier to recycle properly.
“If they actually cared, they'd invest in those types of solution,” he said.