This Earth Day, April 22, offers an opportunity to refocus attention on preserving our environment and the natural resources that we are tasked with protecting for future generations. One important way we can do this is to reinvigorate the U.S. recycling system.
Flaws in our collection system means that recyclable bottles, cans, paper and packaging are not being remade into new products as much as they should be. For too long, consumers have had inadequate access to proper collection. Recycling infrastructure is outdated and inefficient in many communities. People are confused about what can and cannot be recycled. A patchwork of programs across 20,000 jurisdictions have led to low recycling rates overall.
A case in point is our industry’s beverage bottles. They are not single-use plastic. They’ve been carefully designed to be 100 percent recyclable — even the caps. Every year, we produce an estimated 100 billion bottles, and 30 billion of them are recycled as intended. But 70 billion are not. Bottles that are not remade as intended wind up wasted in landfills or in places they shouldn’t be like rivers, oceans and beaches.
America’s beverage industry recognizes the need for action. We’re meeting the challenge head-on, working with prominent environmental organizations, community leaders and government to create a circular economy that remakes all recyclables into new products.
The beverage industry is taking a leadership role to improve the effectiveness of our collection systems.
In the past year, American Beverage’s Every Bottle Back initiative has been funding projects in key areas of the country to expand access to safe, effective recycling and improved collection infrastructure. This effort by The Coca-Cola Co., Keurig Dr Pepper and PepsiCo – in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund, Closed Loop Partners and The Recycling Partnership – is leveraging the equivalent of $400 million to modernize recycling infrastructure and help people recycle better.
In its first year alone, Every Bottle Back committed funding to 11 projects in communities in Texas, Wisconsin, Michigan, Oklahoma and Ohio. The projects will lead to an estimated collection of 646 million new pounds of plastic that can be remade into new bottles over a 10-year span.
These investments show how we can use less new plastic on the front end by increasing the amount of plastic we take out of the environment on the back end. If it can be done in these places, it can be done everywhere.
Beverage companies are also at the forefront of discussions on how to maintain the financial stability of recycling systems. Many recycling systems are under stress. The beverage industry is working with lawmakers and environmental partners in Washington state, Connecticut and New York on ideas for circular collection systems where private-sector companies fund the system.
These efforts build on the beverage industry’s broader ongoing sustainability commitments, such as participation in the U.S. Plastics Pact and support for federal legislation to bolster recycling infrastructure and education.
And in an industry first, America’s leading beverage companies have agreed to place a prominent message on bottles encouraging consumers to recycle them so they can be remade into new bottles.
This all demonstrates that collaborative partnerships between industry, government and environmental organizations can make recycling more effective and reduce our use of new plastic. One way we can all celebrate Earth Day is to continue to work together on solutions that give the next generation a cleaner, more sustainable world to live in.
Katherine Lugar is president and chief executive officer of American Beverage, the leading policy and public education advocate for the non-alcoholic beverage industry.
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