Nestle CEO Affirms Support for ‘Better Bottle Bill’

Nestle Waters CEO Kim Jeffery, has affirmed his company’s support for a ‘Better Bottle Bill’, while continuing to criticize inefficiencies in traditional bottle deposit legislation.

In a pair of opinion pieces on the Greenbiz website, Mr. Jeffrey proposes a way to update and improve the traditional Bottle Bill by incorporating market and producer responsibility principals into the model.

His rationale is that most traditional bottle bill systems are "not expandable to other packaging, paper or compostable waste because these mandates rely on getting all of the "empties" back to the store."

Mr. Jeffery proposes a recycling system which incorporates greater producer responsibility, where beverage producers bear sole responsibility for the recycling of packaging and, in partnership with its consumers and governments, operates an industry-led, nonprofit organization across a given state. Mr. Jeffery’s market-based system envisions investing all monies received to support municipal curbside recycling, public spaces and commercial recycling, and public education programs.

Mr. Jeffery states:

Producer Responsibility benefits both businesses and consumers because it lowers costs and helps motivate businesses to get creative and find ways to responsibly manage products through their full lifecycle, including reducing waste and operating costs. Further, the materials and resources used in today's products are valuable, and with an expandable EPR approach that allows for the collection of all reusable waste, more can be recaptured to ensure businesses have materials for new products tomorrow.

Elements of Mr. Jeffery’s vision have merit, and the rest of the beverage industry would be wise to consider his advice. Mr. Jeffery is effectively proposing to build on the flexible, market-based features of the California system, but without the same level of government involvement.

Under the California system, containers are collected through the existing public and private collection infrastructure that includes buybacks, drop-offs, curbside and material recovery facilities. A consumer bounty (refund value) is provided to stimulate collection, but virtually all collection system costs are covered by unredeemed funds.

Even with the dreaded involvement of government, it’s worthwhile to note that this system has proven to be incredibly effective and efficient. In the last year,80% of containers were recycled, and the net added cost to beverage consumers equals about two-tenths of a cent for glass and plastic beverage containers, and no added cost for aluminum cans. And in the last year, this system provided more than $170 million to support curbside collection of recyclables.

By comparison, Manitoba system is costing consumers 2 cents per container and is achieving a less than 35 percent recycling rate. Similarly, most Canadian Bottle Bill programs, which have been run by the beverage industry for years, cost consumers many times more per container than the California system, while achieving no better recycling results.  Bureaucratic incompetence and inefficiency would appear to have a stronger foothold in industry-run monopolies than in the largest of ‘government-run’ recycling systems.

Regardless, Mr. Jeffery’s main point is well taken. It’s time to re-think the traditional bottle deposit model. But an honest look at market-based efficiency and performance may lead to a surprising conclusion.