Battle over Method Thwarts
npr.org for photos/images of plastic bottle recovery/processing)
Morning Edition, July 23, 2007 · Companies that reclaim the plastic resin
from empty beverage bottles say they can't get enough of the stuff. However,
fewer than one-quarter of the billions of plastic bottles Americans purchase
every year are recycled.
Some of the worst places for
recycling are large public events. For instance, baseball games at Boston's Fenway
Park draw more than
36,000 fans, but there are no recycling containers in sight.
A Little League park in Mansfield, Conn.,
may have a better game plan — a transparent receptacle with a recycling
symbol stamped on the outside. The containers have increased the recycling of
bottles and cans in town parks by about 60 percent.
"It was like 'Yes! This
is the answer to public events!'" says Virginia Walton, Mansfield's recycling coordinator.
Walton says the key to
getting people to recycle more is to give them a way to do it — and make
it a no-brainer.
Demand for Bottles to Recycle
Public recycling bins of any
kind are rare in the United States, but the industry that recycles the bottles'
plastic resin, known as PET, is hungry for more to make fabric, carpets and new
bottles, says Michael Schedler of the National Association for PET Container
"The demand is almost
bottomless at this point," Schedler says. "There's so much new demand
coming on and existing demand can't be met."
Across the country,
recycling programs for plastic bottles are a hodgepodge — each state and
town does its own thing. Some recycle plastic at the curb; others at drop-off
centers. Some don't recycle at all.
Allen Hershkowitz of the
Natural Resources Defense Council says container deposit laws, also known as
"bottle bills," give a financial incentive to recycle.
"People realize in
bottle-bill states that throwing out a can with a deposit on it is, in effect,
throwing out a dime or a nickel," Hershkowitz says.
Grocers, Bottlers Oppose Deposit Laws
The 11 states with bottle
bills account for more than 60 percent of the PET plastic recycled in the United States.
But many grocers are against deposits.
"It's somewhat dirty,
it's inconvenient and it actually costs us money," says Ken Capano, who
owns two ShopRite stores in Connecticut.
Capano says the deposit law
in his state places too much of the burden of recycling on grocers, who have to
provide space and machines to take the bottles back. It costs each of his
stores about $20,000 a year, he says.
Bottlers, who have to
administer container deposits in some states, also oppose the laws. Susan
Neely, president of the American Beverage Association, says curbside programs
"The key is a
comprehensive program that draws in not just bottles and cans but milk jugs and
newspapers and magazines and detergent bottles and all the things that make up
the waste in our communities," Neely says.
In California, the deposit program funds
curbside recycling. Jim Hill of the California Department of Conservation says
the state uses the money from bottles and cans that aren't returned. That adds
up to $250 million a year.
drop-off systems all working together, I think, is the best approach to get the
best bang for your buck," Hill says.
California also addresses some of the grocers'
concerns. Instead of supermarkets taking back the bottles, independent
redemption centers do. The state also puts a deposit on all beverage containers
except milk and wine.
Laws Should Target More Than Bottles
Kim Jeffrey, president and
CEO of Nestle Waters North America, says he's not against container deposits,
but he says beverages should not be the only containers targeted.
"Everybody that sells a
plastic container that's recyclable should have some deposit on it if we're
going to do this thing the right way," Jeffrey says.
And he means everybody.
"If it's P&G with a
detergent container; if it's ConAgra with a peanut butter container; or if it's
me with a bottled water container; or if it's a dairy with a one-gallon milk
container — this should be a level playing field on this," Jeffrey
Hershkowitz says that if
Americans don't recycle more plastic, other problems will get worse.
plastics emit enormous amounts of hazardous emissions and greenhouse gases
during the acquisition of the petroleum and the transformation of that
petroleum into a plastic product," he says.
Hershkowitz says recycling
avoids that pollution, but making recycling work isn't a national priority.
However, the growing market demand for empties may trigger a new commitment.
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