The Growing of Plastic Bottle Waste
Consumers need to appreciate the fact that their municipal water is not only safe to drink, but it may even be safer than bottled water. They also need to appreciate the multiplicity of environmental problems created by their consumption of bottled water. But even if consumption were to be reduced dramatically, there would still be billions of post-consumer plastic water bottles that would need to be managed.
Financial incentives, in the form of refundable deposits, provide a collection infrastructure that works both at home and away from home.
In South America and Europe, many beverage companies, including global beverage giant Coca-Cola, still offer their products in refillable bottles. (Most have switched from glass to PET plastic refillables to reduce transportation costs.) In the US, beer and soft drinks were packaged exclusively in refillable glass bottles until one-way bottles and cans were introduced in the 1940s and 1950s. Today, refillable bottles are just a memory for older American consumers. Younger consumers have no memory of refillables at all.
Refundable deposits in eleven states provide a financial incentive to return beverage containers for recycling and a collection infrastructure. In 1999, a report by Businesses and Environmentalists Allied for Recycling (BEAR) found that approximately 28% of the US population lived in the 10 states with a container deposit law, and consumers in those states recycled 490 containers per capita, as opposed to consumers in the 40 non-deposit states who recycled only 191 containers per capita. (In 2002, Hawaii became the 11th state to implement a container deposit law. The law covers water and other non-carbonated beverages.)
One only has to look at the difference between the national recycling rates for PET soda bottles and the rates for PET water bottles to see what a difference a deposit makes. In 2004, the recycling rate for US custom PET bottles, which include food and non-food bottles and jars, and all beverage bottles except carbonated drinks, was only about 17%, while the PET soda bottle recycling rate was 34%.
The higher rate for PET soda bottles is due to the fact that consumers in the 11 container deposit states are recycling their plastic soda bottles at rates above 75% on average. This high recycling rate raises the national rate for these bottles.
Recycling rates for plastic PET bottles and other containers are higher in many other countries than in the US. For example, in 2004 the PET bottle recycling in the US was 15% compared with a rate of 80% in Sweden, where deposits are required on all aluminium cans and one-way PET bottles. Aluminium cans were also recycled at far higher rates in Sweden – 85% as opposed to 45% in the US.