FEBRUARY 2009

Recycling report evaluates beverage companies

A beverage container recycling report released by the corporate responsibility watchdog, As You Sow, evaluated the recycling practices of 23 large beverage companies in the United States. Coca-Cola received the highest grade with a C, followed by Anheuser Busch, PepsiCo, and Nestle Waters, who all received C minuses.

“Despite some impressive progress, most beverage companies continue to fail basic criteria for dealing with the environmental implications of their packaging,” said Amy Galland, As You Sow’s research director and author of the study. More than 200 billion beverage containers are sold in the United States each year, but over 130 billion of those are still sent to landfills and incinerated, representing a huge waste of natural resources.

The new publication – Waste and Opportunity: U.S. Beverage Container Recycling Scorecard and Report – is based on original research that evaluated the beverage companies based on four criteria:

Source Reduction: Reducing the use of virgin packaging materials has a dramatic effect on energy use and the carbon footprint of beverage companies. Source reduction goals with plans to implement them can have significant impacts on the companies’ double bottom-line of financial and environmental returns.

Use of Recycled Content: The energy savings and greenhouse gas reduction from using recycled materials in beverage containers is substantial.

Beverage Container Recycling: Supporting and investing in legislative policies that increase beverage container recovery and recycling or developing nation – and/or company-wide initiatives will dramatically reduce the environmental impact of beverage containers. The national recycling rate in the United States has dropped since 1992 from 55 percent to 33 percent, but the average rate of recycling for states with mandatory deposits – bottle bill laws – is 70 percent.

As You Sow believes it is important to encourage companies to compile information on goals and commitments made on container recycling, source reduction and recycled content activities in a central, easily accessible place on their websites.

As You Sow surveyed and evaluated 74 percent of the United States carbonated soft drink market, more than 60 percent of the United States bottled water market, and nearly half of the United States beer industry. The 23 companies evaluated in the report were: Coca-Cola (C), Anheuser Busch (C minus), PepsiCo (C minus), Nestle Waters NA (C minus), Red Bull (D plus), Fiji Water (D), Honest Tea (D minus); and the following companies who all received failing grades: Dr. Pepper/Snapple, Miller Brewing Company, Coors Brewing Company, Starbucks, Cott, National Beverage, Hansens, Crystal Geyser, Adirondack, Arizona, Boston Beer, DS Waters, Jones Soda, Monarch Beverage, New Belgium Beer, and Polar Beverage.

Key findings of the study:

  • Coca-Cola Co. outranks its beverage industry peers overall, leading in commitments and performance on beverage container source reduction, company-wide recovery goals, and investments in recycling. It has pledged to recover 50 percent of its plastic bottles and cans by 2015.
  • Leadership in Recycled Plastic and Aluminum: PepsiCo reports the highest percentage use of recycled PET (polyethylene terephthalate) in its bottles (10 percent) followed by Coca-Cola at 3 percent. No other company consistently uses recycled PET. Anheuser Busch uses standard aluminum industry ingots with 41 percent recycled content whereas both Coca-Cola and Red Bull report that they exceed the standard.
  • Nestle Waters NA showed the greatest improvement since publication of As You Sow’s 2006 Scorecard, and recently set an industry-wide goal of recycling 60 percent of PET bottles by 2018.
  • Dr. Pepper/Snapple, maker of 7-up and Canada Dry and the third largest marketer of soft drinks in the United States, lags behind. They do not have beverage container recycling goals or programs to significantly boost container recycling rates, and are the largest beverage firm not to respond to the survey for this report.

“Most people don’t realize that beverage container recycling has a direct impact on climate change and energy security,” said Galland.

If all of the beverage containers that were wasted last year had been recycled, 15.6 million metric tons of greenhouse gases would have been avoided – the equivalent to emissions from 36.2 million barrels of oil – equal to 52 days of oil imports from Iraq.

According to the report, “Source reduction has the most direct impact both on a company’s bottom line and on its environmental footprint.” As You Sow encourages companies to “compete to deliver the most ounces of beverage per gram of packaging.”

Companies can reduce emissions and energy use by using recycled materials in their beverage containers. Making containers from recycled content uses significantly less energy and fossil fuels in their production than using virgin materials: recycled aluminum uses 95 percent less energy, recycled plastic uses 30 percent less energy, and recycled glass uses 35 percent less energy.

As a result of As You Sow’s first beverage container report in 2006, Nestle Waters NA vowed to improve its recycling and container performance. Last year, the company endorsed a new model of container deposit legislation marking a shift in decade-long efforts by the beverage industry to fight state container deposit legislation. “Having a major beverage company endorse a legislative deposit model could lead to a new generation of bottle bills at the state level,” said Conrad MacKerron, director of As You Sow’s corporate social responsibility program.

Container recovery averages 70 percent in states with container legislation, more than twice that of states without bottle bills.