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April 2007

Plastic beverage container waste soars

Washington— A report by the Container Recycling Institute (CRI) indicated that American consumers spent more than $270 billion on beverages they consumed in 2005 (excluding milk), a 29% increase over costs in 2002, even though consumption remained unchanged at 121.5 gallons per capita. The increase in the cost of beverages was almost three times the increase in the Consumer Price Index.

According to the report, titled “Water, Water Everywhere: The Growth of Non-Carbonated Beverages in the U.S.,” sales of plastic water bottles 1 liter and less increased more than 100% from 2002 to 2005, Pat Franklin, CRI executive director pointed out that a more startling statistic not in the report was the 900% increase in 10-12 ounce plastic water bottles sold over the three-year period, from 1.9 billion to 18.9 billion units. Franklin attributes much of the increase to the move to smaller sizes. “Beverage producers are pushing the single-serve containers that are consumed on the go, and more of them are ending up in landfills or as litter,” she said.

The report included data showing that Americans purchased 215 billion beverage containers (excluding milk) in 2005: 21 billion more than in 2002. Jenny Gitlitz, CRI research director said, “A disproportionate number of the increase, 19 billion, were non-fizzy drink containers, but growth in the non-carbonated categories was eclipsed by growth in bottled water sales, which nearly doubled over a three-year period.” The report showed that plastic bottled water sales in 2005 hit 29.8 billion, double the number of units sold in 2005.

According to the report, beer and carbonated soft drinks comprised 84% of the beverage market in 1997 while non-carbonated beverages made up just 14%. By 2005 non-carbonated drinks had grown to 27% while beer and soda market share dropped to 71%. The new data shows that at the current growth rate, units of non-carbonated beverage containers will overtake soft drink container sales by 2010. Plastic water bottles, at 29 billion in 2005, have already surpassed the number of plastic soda bottles sold.

“There are significant environmental benefits from keeping hundreds of billion beverage cans and bottles out of our nation’s landfills, waterways, roadways and recreation areas,” said Gitlitz. “But there are upstream environmental consequences that are even more egregious and yet are rarely talked about. For example,” she said, “in 2005, manufacturing 144 billion new beverage containers from raw materials—to replace those wasted—consumed the energy equivalent of 53.5 million barrels of crude oil equivalent and produced approximately 4.8 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions.”

“While the environmental benefits of recycling beverage containers are well known,” said Franklin, “the economic benefits are less well known. Few policymakers are aware of the fact that many businesses profit from using post-consumer glass bottles, plastic bottles and aluminum cans. Both processors and end-users of these scrap containers would benefit from having a steady supply of high-quality post-consumer beverage containers to use as feedstocks to make new containers and other products.”

“Because market share of “non-carbs” has increased from nearly zero 25 years ago to 27% today and growing,” said Franklin, “we’re likely to see continued efforts to update container deposit laws to include these popular drinks that would have been included if they had been on the market at the time the laws were enacted.

The report pointed out that attempts should also be made to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of curbside recycling programs nationwide, and to increase recycling options in public places.

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