On average, America’s top beverage companies produce about 100 billion plastic bottles every year, according to estimates from the American Beverage Association. While an estimated 35 billion bottles are collected and recycled annually, the majority of these bottles end up in the waste stream, according to that association.
In 2019, The Recycling Partnership, Falls Church, Virginia, released a report, “The Bridge to Circularity: Putting the ‘New Plastics Economy’ into Practice in the U.S.,” that provides a case study of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle recycling. According to that report, an annual gap of about 1 billion pounds exists between current U.S. supply and projected demand for recycled PET (rPET) from major brands. Sarah Dearman, vice president of circular ventures at The Recycling Partnership, says the study reached the conclusion that in its current state, the U.S. recycling system can’t help companies meet their goals to use rPET in their products. She adds that to meet companies’ demand for rPET, each person in the U.S. would need to recycle an additional 100 PET bottles per year.
“But people don’t have enough access to recycling,” she says. “They are not participating at the levels they need to, and significant investment is needed in the system.”
Investment in PET bottle recycling is needed to meet demand, and some investment is coming this year. The American Beverage Association, Washington, has launched the Every Bottle Back initiative to invest about $400 million toward plastic bottle recycling efforts in the U.S. The initiative aligns top beverage makers with nonprofit groups, such as Switzerland-based World Wildlife Fund, New York-based Closed Loop Partners and The Recycling Partnership.
Katherine Lugar, president and CEO at the American Beverage Association, says the new initiative has four major pieces:
• invest an equivalent of $400 million in recycling infrastructure to reclaim as many bottles as possible;
Together, the American Beverage Association hopes these groups will be able to collaborate to make investments into a more circular system to ensure PET bottles are reclaimed, recycled and remade.
“Ultimately, we hope to support the creation of a more circular system for recreating bottles to new bottles that reduces our industry’s plastic footprint and conserves resources,” Lugar says.
Members of the American Beverage Association include brands such as The Coca-Cola Co., Keurig Dr Pepper and PepsiCo. Lugar says all these companies had expressed a desire to work across the industry to recycle more PET bottles. All companies have committed funds toward this initiative.
“Companies had already been talking about a desire to work across industry on these areas precompetitively,” she says. “Much of this comes from the fact that just like our consumers are frustrated when they see plastic bottles end up on beaches or the side of the road, we share that frustration, too. Bottles were made to be remade.”
While Coca-Cola, Keurig Dr Pepper and Pepsi are competitive businesses and each has their own separate sustainability targets and platforms around recycling plastics, Lugar says it was important for them to work precompetitively on Every Bottle Back to develop long-term solutions to recover more PET.
Nicole Smith, sustainability manager at Coca-Cola North America, Atlanta, says the initiative requires groups to work together regardless of market share competition to come up with a long-term solution.
“I think not one of us can solve this on our own,” she says. “It’s fantastic to have industry partners come together. That’s what this is all about—how can we collectively do good?”
Monique Oxender, chief sustainability officer at Keurig Dr Pepper, Boston, adds that it’s been easy to partner with other beverage brands on Every Bottle Back because they all agree on the impact that they want to have on U.S. communities. “Sitting together, working for a common purpose of eliminating plastic waste is something we can all agree on, she says.
Kathleen Niesen, director of recycling and sustainability at PepsiCo Beverages North America, Purchase, New York, adds that having three major beverage brands work together on Every Bottle Back demonstrates the importance of the plastics recycling issue to society.
“Here are market competitors who spend a lot of time and energy promoting their particular products and image in the marketplace, and yet we have seen that this recycling and sustainability work is so important that we can put competitiveness aside for the sake of addressing this issue,” Niesen says. “It’s only by collaboration that we’re going to make a problem of this scale a nonproblem.”
Lugar adds that this is not the first initiative its member companies have collaborated on. She says that in the past, these companies have collaborated on health-related initiatives to reduce the amount of sugar in their beverages as well as to create clear calorie labels on beverage packaging.
“We don’t know of another industry that’s working in partnership with leading brands,” she adds. “These three companies are committed to sustainability with a long track record of delivering on sustainability goals. I think it’s important to note that they have recognized that by harnessing the power of the three companies together will help to deliver the greatest impact; they all recognize the need to work together to reduce plastic in the environment.”
Members of the American Beverage Association include the Coca-Cola Co., Keurig Dr Pepper and PepsiCo. In addition to committing to the Every Bottle Back initiative that launched in the fall of 2019, each of these brands has their own sustainability commitments and projects to improve plastic recycling efforts. The following are just some of the goals and commitments from Coca-Cola, Keurig Dr Pepper and PepsiCo.
In addition to Every Bottle Back, Coca-Cola Co. also is one of the companies participating in the NextGen Cup Challenge, which is a multiyear partnership of food and beverage industry leaders to address single-use food packaging waste. The companies aim to advance recoverable solutions for the to-go cup. Companies are developing alternative cup solutions to bring to scale. Other partner companies involved include McDonald’s, Starbucks, IDEO, Yum! Brands, Nestlé, Wendy’s and World Wildlife Fund.
“You’ve got to work together in these spaces,” says Nicole Smith, sustainability manager at Coca-Cola North America. “You need scale to help these things grow and have a bigger impact. I think it’s fantastic to have dialogues and hear different ideas and new ways to make things better.”
Keurig Dr Pepper has started to transition to recyclable K-Cup pods. By the end of 2020, the company anticipates that 100 percent of its K-Cup pods will be recyclable.
In recent years, Keurig Dr Pepper reports that it has been working closely with recyclers to ensure they can sort and recycle K-Cup pods and other small format plastics in North America.
Monique Oxender, chief sustainability officer at Keurig Dr Pepper, says K-Cup pods became 100 percent recyclable in Canada by the end of 2018.
“The K-Cup pods are polypropylene plastic,” she says. “They are highly recyclable, accepted in most communities across the U.S. It’s a valuable material that people really want to buy and reuse. We started testing this back in 2015. We tested dozens of facilities to ensure [K-Cup pods] can be effectively sorted and recycled. The result, on average, was that 90 percent of the pods do make it to the container line—they’re not too small and don’t fall out to glass or residuals.”
In January, Falls Church, Virginia-based The Recycling Partnership and the PepsiCo Foundation had announced that they would help contribute funds to improve recycling in the city of Detroit. The city has received about $800,000 in grants to support expansion of recycling in the city. Funding also will help increase recycling education statewide in Michigan in 2020.
Kathleen Niesen, director of recycling and sustainability at PepsiCo Beverages North America, says PepsiCo has been a partner of The Recycling Partnership for a few years—the company helped with the nonprofit’s All In On Recycling grant that kicked off in 2018.
“The recycling in Detroit education program is just one example of the work being done by The Recycling Partnership, funded in part by the All In On Recycling grant,” Niesen says.
Beyond consistently measuring these brands’ progress using less virgin plastics, the key components of Every Bottle Back include improving recycling education and improving infrastructure at material recovery facilities (MRFs) to recycle PET bottles.
Smith at Coca-Cola says recycling is confusing, so the companies involved in Every Bottle Back already have been working to develop improved consumer awareness campaigns to help educate the general public on how to recycle PET bottles.
“We’re working on a more uniform label that each of the different stakeholders can voluntarily place on beverage bottles to help communicate to consumers to keep caps on and to recycle the bottle when they’re finished with it,” she says.
“As a product leaves a store shelf and goes into a consumer’s hands, we want to be sure that consumer knows what to do with that product and how to recycle it,” Oxender of Keurig Dr Pepper adds. “The result of the consumer recycling right increases recycling rates and also increases the quality of the material that’s being recycled.”
Also, funds from the initiative will help MRFs invest in new technology that ensures they can recover PET bottles easily.
“We want to make sure the recyclers have the facilities and equipment to be able to sort and capture the material coming in blue bins to the facility to increase the amount of PET recycling, which allows us in turn to use more recycled content,” Oxender says.
The Every Bottle Back initiative will roll out the $400 million of investments in a seven-to-10-year period, so it’s just in the early planning stages currently. Dearman of The Recycling Partnership says the initiative will have a bit of a regional focus and will gradually rollout to different communities in the U.S.
“We’re in the planning process of finding where the greatest opportunities are for us to make an impact,” she says. “It will scale over time.”
Dearman says the initiative will have a “significant impact” in several communities in 2020. She adds that toolkits will be made with information and experiences learned in each of the communities served during the Every Bottle Back initiative; the toolkits will provide education resources to communities not directly served in the initiative.
In mid-January, the initiative announced its plans to rollout recycling education improvements in the Dallas-Fort Worth community first. The initiative committed about $3 million toward recycling education and infrastructure improvements in that community.
About $2 million of that investment will be applied toward infrastructure improvements at Austin, Texas-based Balcones Resources’ material recovery facility (MRF) in Farmers Branch, Texas, just north of Dallas. Sometime in 2020, the MRF will be enhanced with optical sorters, artificial intelligence and robotics that separate recyclable plastics. New belt configurations will help to improve recyclables processing.
The initiative also will help improve recycling education at multifamily housing complexes in the community. The American Beverage Association reports that about 50,000 residents in multifamily housing units across the community will benefit from expanded recycling access and better on-site and in-unit signage about recycling.
Additionally, the initiative will share a “Know What to Throw” public service campaign to educate residents across 230 communities in Dallas-Fort Worth about how to decrease recycling contamination.
Similar rollouts will occur in other communities across the U.S. in the coming months and years, the American Beverage Association reports. Lugar says she estimates that about 9 million households will have improved access to recycling as a result of Every Bottle Back, which could lead to a 20 percent increase in the amount of PET recycling over what’s currently done. She says the association also hopes this initiative will encourage other industries to collaborate on improving PET recycling.
“We hope this is a catalyst for others,” she says. “With leading voices in the environmental community, we know we can have a greater impact.”
The Brussels-based Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) has announced the InterContinental hotel in Geneva, Switzerland, as the site of its autumn 2020 convention. The group will convene Oct. 11-13 at the venue.
The BIR also continues to prepare for its Spring 2020 World Recycling Convention, which will take place May 17-20 May at the Swissôtel-The Bosphorus in Istanbul.
The recycling organization also selected dates for its spring and autumn events for the years 2021 to 2023:
Although host cities have not been chosen for those meetings, BIR says it “will continue to alternate global destinations and European business hubs for its forthcoming conventions.”
The Austria-based company will display its Atlas primary shredder, smart system solutions at the event.
Austria-based Lindner Recyclingtech, a shredding and waste processing specialist, plans to showcase its smart system solutions during IFAT 2020, which takes place May 4-8 in Munich. During the event, Lindner will showcase its latest generation of the Atlas primary shredder as well as smart system solutions that turn waste recovery facilities into smart factories, the company reports in a news release.
“We have always been one of the industry’s pioneers, which is why the mechanical components of our facilities are already very sophisticated today,” says Stefan Scheiflinger-Ehrenwerth, head of product management at Lindner. “Digitalization and smart technology is now the next evolutionary step. The industry 4.0 concept has triggered an industrial revolution that will also change the waste industry significantly over the coming years. Our customers will work with valuable raw materials, and they must be processed into new, top-quality products with maximum efficiency—whether the ideal fuel for resource-saving energy generation or the raw material for high-quality products made from recyclables.
He continues, “If we look at the requirements and legal regulations that will be imposed on the raw materials industry in the future, the only way we will be able to work profitably is to increase the product quality of fuels and recyclates as efficiently as possible. On the one hand, this will require digital transformation, and on the other we will have to optimize mechanical parts. For example, primary shredding is essential. When it comes to robot sorting, tracer detection or online quality assurance systems, then not only is the optimum particle size important but consistently dosed feeding is crucial. That’s why it’s so important for the individual machines to communicate with each other. Combine that with the power of smart data and it’s easy to make the most of waste.”
The Recycling Partnership, Falls Church, Virginia, completed its '2020 State of Curbside Recycling Report.'
In recent years, concerns around material quality have grown among material recovery facility (MRF) operators, particularly as the industry has faced weaker market conditions.
“We know contamination has become a huge issue for material recovery facilities (MRFs),” says Scott Mouw, senior director of strategy and research at The Recycling Partnership. “We know MRFs are wrestling with bringing in cleaner material. One of the key ways to figure out that issue is to look at what’s coming in on the trucks with inbound material.”
Last year, The Recycling Partnership, Falls Church, Virginia, worked on developing its "2020 State of Curbside Recycling" report, which was released Feb. 13. One of the figures that the nonprofit tracked in its report was how many communities are knowledgeable about their inbound contamination rates. According to the "2020 State of Curbside Recycling" study, only about one-third of communities know this figure. Of that one-third of communities, Mouw says the average inbound contamination rate is 17 percent.
“This data tells us that MRFs and communities need to do a much better job talking about inbound contamination and analyzing that data,” Mouw says. “If you don’t know what that [number] is and don’t know the nature of the inbound contamination, you can’t do anything about it. But if more and more communities and MRFs work together, hopefully, we can get to a point where more than 75 percent of communities know their inbound contamination rates, and those communities will be in a better position to improve on material quality.”
Inbound contamination was just one of the issues researched in The Recycling Partnership’s "2020 State of Curbside Recycling" report. Mouw says the report findings are based on data and information from its 2019 State of Curbside survey sent out in July 2019, information from 49 Municipal Measurement Program reports, research from the nonprofit’s West Coast Contamination Initiative, data from 28 grant programs it worked on as of November 2019 and more than 300 media stories.
Mouw says the nonprofit released a similar study in 2016 that looked at why curbside collection programs were strong in some communities and not in others. He says the "2020 State of Curbside Recycling" report updates some of the information from the 2016 report.
“We are very aware that the collection side of curbside is important but that it’s not the only part that matters, especially now that we have headwinds with end markets,” he says. “We felt like we needed a more comprehensive view of curbside recycling as a system in the United States. [The 2020 report] is meant to be comprehensive on curbside systems, what challenges it’s facing, how we overcome the challenges and plotting a path forward to improve curbside systems.”
The in-depth report offers insights on a variety of aspects of municipal recycling, including the basic dimensions of the U.S. curbside recycling system, curbside recycling program performances, the impact changing material values have on curbside programs, how community programs are reacting to challenges and ways to improve curbside recycling programs.
One figure The Recycling Partnership looked at in the study was verifying the number of communities that have truly eliminated their curbside recycling programs. In recent years, Mouw says the nonprofit has been monitoring news stories about closing curbside recycling programs. For this report, The Recycling Partnership reviewed these stories it found and verified with each community whether the curbside recycling program had closed. In total, Mouw says about 50 cities officially have eliminated curbside recycling programs since 2018. The report notes that more than 480,000 residents were affected by these changes.
“One of the reasons we did that work was there were some media reports that said, ‘hundreds of programs have been eliminated,’” he says. “We just felt that that wasn’t true. So, we decided to collect some data on this.”
That full list of cities that ended curbside recycling since 2018 can be found in Appendix B of the "2020 State of Curbside Recycling" report.
To address these issues, the report offers best practices for MRFs on improving curbside recycling programs in the communities they work with as well as a case study on the city of Sarasota’s curbside recycling program.
“The report shows data and information on tried-and-true techniques to improve contamination,” Mouw says. “One thing we would love to happen from this report is more MRFs becoming involved in their communities, not just assessing contamination but also acting on that information and doing things like cart tagging to make sure carts are tagged when there is contamination.”
The Aluminum Association, Arlington, Virginia, has announced that Tom Dobbins will become its new president and CEO as of March 16. He previously spent 13 years as the head of the American Composites Manufacturers Association (ACMA), which represents composites manufacturers and their suppliers.
“I’m thrilled to be taking on this new role during an incredibly important time for the U.S. aluminum industry,” Dobbins says. “The Aluminum Association has a proud legacy as one of the leading voices for the materials manufacturing sector in Washington and beyond. I look forward to taking on a leadership role as the team continues to execute on the recently developed Aluminum Agenda – from policy advocacy to supporting market growth to industry-leading research and data on sustainability and other issues.”
At the ACMA, Dobbins has prioritized market growth and development for the composites industry, leading effective government affairs, communications, events and education programs, The Aluminum Association says. During his tenure, the ACMA revamped its annual trade show, more than doubling its size; worked with Congress to include provisions on composites in the last eight major infrastructure bills signed into law; spearheaded a program to bring composites manufacturers to private events with automotive and aviation original equipment manufacturers; and worked with the Department of Energy to launch an advanced manufacturing institute for composites.
“Tom is a well-known and dynamic leader in materials manufacturing and a Washington veteran,” says Marco Palmieri, senior vice president and president of Novelis North America and chair of the Aluminum Association. “Tom’s extensive experience in public policy advocacy and association management make him a perfect fit to help move the aluminum industry forward during this critical time.”
Dobbins is a recent member of the board of directors of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) Council of Manufacturing Associations (CMA). He also is a past chair of the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) Public Policy Committee and Lobby Task Force. Prior to his time at the ACMA, Dobbins was the director of partnership outreach for the Internal Revenue Service, where he developed an award-winning comprehensive outreach and education program for small businesses, The Aluminum Association says. He was also the director of government affairs at the American Council of Engineering Companies and spent several years working on Capitol Hill.
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