Recycling bin image

Beverage companies have partnered with organizations in order to educate and spread awareness about recycling efforts.

The phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle” that children are taught in elementary school is among the numerous messages designed to educate consumers about recycling efforts. But even with the many ways to inform people about recycling, associations, manufacturers and beverage companies continually work to spread the word about programs and initiatives.

Earlier this year, the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) shared that polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottled water containers have a recycle rate of 31 percent in nationwide curbside recycling programs, based on information from the National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR). The 31 percent recycling rate is up slightly since last year when the figure was just shy of that percentage, the association said. The IBWA said the data indicates that the recycling rate for PET plastic bottled water containers has nearly doubled in six years, when the recycling rate for PET plastic bottled water containers stood at nearly 17 percent.

Although the NAPCOR data indicates that recycling of bottled water containers has increased, many beverage companies are working to grow the rate even more. In 2008, Nestlé Waters North America (NWNA) set a goal to increase U.S. recycling rates to 60 percent for PET beverage bottles by 2018, says Michael Washburn, director of sustainability for NWNA.

“We are focusing efforts on increasing consumer recycling rates in the U.S. through recycling education and awareness programs with partners like Keep America Beautiful (KAB),” he says. “But we’re also focusing on our efforts by lightweighting our bottles and expanding the amount of recycled plastic we reuse in our packaging.”

With KAB, the company is sponsoring the all-new Recycle-Bowl to educate the next generation of recyclers, Washburn says.

“Recycle-Bowl is a free, friendly competition and benchmarking tool for [kindergarten through high] school recycling programs to promote waste reduction activities across the country,” he says. “School recycling programs across the nation compete in a race to collect the most recyclables, with prizes offered in each state and Washington, D.C., and to the national winner.”

Other major beverage companies also work with KAB through programs such as Bin Grant. In the spring, The Coca-Cola Co., Atlanta, and KAB provided nearly 4,000 bins to 70 communities nationwide. The Bin Grant Program provides recycling bins directly to recipients. Since its inception in the fall of 2007, the Bin Grant program has placed more than 20,000 recycling bins in 380 communities in 48 states and Washington, D.C., the company says.

This fall, the Anheuser-Busch Foundation and KAB worked together for the 2011 Lend-A-Bin Grant program. In its first year, the Lend-A-Bin Grant program will provide more than 3,500 recycling bins designed for use at special events such as concerts, festivals and athletic events, the company says. The grant program is designed to support local community recycling programs by providing collapsible bins to selected organizations for them to lend or rent for the collection of recyclable beverage containers.

In addition to awareness programs, NWNA also is exploring the use of recycled packaging materials. The company introduced a 50 percent recycled PET (rPET) plastic 0.5-liter bottle in the company’s Eco-Shape design, Washburn says.

Nestle recycled plastic bottle

Nestlé Waters North America introduced a 50 percent recycled plastic (rPET) bottle earlier this year for its Deer Park brand in Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

“This product launched in the Washington, D.C., and Baltimore markets under the Deer Park brand in February 2011,” he says. “The bottle serves as an educational tool and includes messaging that explains to consumers how recycled bottles can be used to make other products, including new bottles. This October, we are touring the D.C. area with a Deer Park mobile recycling education event that teaches people how recycling works.”

The event will allow consumers to experience fun and informative recycling games and exhibits that show how recycling works, Washburn adds.

NWNA began using rPET in bottles in 2009, Washburn says, with the launch of Re-source Natural Spring Water. The bottle is made from 25 percent rPET, he adds. In 2010, the company increased the amount to 50 percent, and in Canada it reintroduced Mountclair Natural Spring Water packaged in 100 percent rPET bottles, Washburn says.

In order to produce more rPET bottles, the company recognizes that increasing recycling rates is necessary. “One of the key challenges we face is the inadequate supply of high-quality rPET at reasonable prices in the U.S., due in part to low recycling rates,” Washburn says. “We’re addressing this challenge by educating consumers, especially with the help of KAB and our own real-world products, to show that recycling is easy and has positive implications. ‘Recycling works,’ is the first part of that message. ‘Join us’ is the second.”

Curbside education

For communities that provide curbside recycling, sometimes getting people to participate can be a challenge. Stephen Gardner, vice president of communications for the Aluminum Association, says about 60 percent of the United States has curbside recycling, but only about half of the people use it.

“If people who have access to curbside recycling would just take advantage and use the curbside recycling, we could dramatically increase the recycling rate,” he says.

Earlier this year, the Aluminum Association reported that aluminum cans in the United States have a recycling rate of 58 percent, he says, which is about a 0.7 percent increase.

“We rank sort of in the middle to the bottom third of the pack globally,” Gardner says. “[There is] a similar rate in the U.K., but in Germany and a couple of the Scandinavian countries, you’ve got rates that are in the 70s, and of course in South America and Brazil particularly, they have a recycling rate that’s in excess of 90 percent, probably closer to 95 to 96 percent.”

Gardner says that recycling aluminum beverage containers saves 95 percent of the energy compared to using new or primary aluminum. Aluminum beverage containers also use about

68 percent recycled content, he adds.