May 25 - Bottle Bill Advocates Should Look to CA Success

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With growing (high value) US manufacturing demand for recycled PET, the economic as well as environmental benefits of increased collection of containers for recycling has never been greater (and the cost lower).

Responsibility for the political failure to advance new and expanded container recycling laws rests jointly with Beverage Producers who are unwilling to increase the price of their products to internalize environmental costs, as well as with some of my colleagues in the environmental community who remain dogmatically attached to an outdated, inefficient and insufficient deposit scheme.

Advocates of increased container recycling will continue to fail if we insist on forcing retailers to take on recycling, while actively excluding curbside programs.

At the same time, the nearly 20 year experience with universal curbside in most states has demonstrated that this system--while great for fiber, greenwaste (and even foodwaste), is unable to provide sufficient high quality glass and plastic to US manufacturers.

There is another path. This month, Oregon took a giant political leap forward by coupling an expansion of their Bottle Bill with a plan for shifting some collection responsibilities from retailers to recyclers.

The now 20 year old California experiment has demonstrated that 'incentives' are more important than convenience in driving recycling rates. For the 2nd year in a row, beverage container recycling rates have exceeded 82%. And while virtually every California household has curbside recycling, just 15% of beverage container volume goes through this system. Curbside has no complaints though. Last year, California curbside programs received more than $170 million from the program-- about $1.20/HH per month.

The program’s market-based recycling incentives (for consumers, collectors, processors and manufacturers), has driven the vast majority of volume to the lowest cost recycling operators, and helped develop and expand in-state manufacturing for most of the material collected (this summer CarbonLITE will open a PET 'bottle-to-bottle' recycling facility with 3 times the capacity of the Nestle facility).

And while California is the only state that directly requires manufacturers to internalize the recycling cost of their packaging choices, the overall system still delivers high level recycling at the lowest cost per container (to consumers) of any container recycling system in North America.