Major beverage producers support extended producer responsibility efforts

Several major United States beverage brands would support new laws making producers financially responsible for collection and recycling of post-consumer beverage packaging, according to a new report assessing corporate progress on recycling released by shareholder advocacy group As You Sow.

The new report, “Waste & Opportunity: U.S. Beverage Container Recycling Scorecard and Report,” is As You Sow’s third review of the beverage industry since 2006. Nestlé Waters North America received the highest ranking, followed closely by PepsiCo, The Coca-Cola Company, and Red Bull. All four received a letter grade of B-.

The report discusses new efforts by several companies to promote Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) mandates to reverse lagging United States bottle and can recycling rates.

“The major development since our last survey has been the willingness of leading beverage companies to consider new legislative mandates requiring them to take responsibility for their post-consumer packaging,” said Conrad MacKerron, senior director of As You Sow’s Corporate Social Responsibility Program.

“Many beverage and consumer packaged goods companies pay fees in other countries to finance recovery of their packaging. It’s significant that companies are finally acknowledging the need to take responsibility in the United States as well.”

Of the 224 billion beverage containers sold annually in the United States only 29 percent by weight are recycled; the rest are landfilled or incinerated, resulting in a huge waste of natural resources. In Europe and Canada, where EPR laws are in place, far higher levels of containers are recovered.

The report is based on original research and scores companies on key performance areas in packaging. Grades were based on information submitted by companies who responded to the survey. Those who did not respond were scored based on publicly available information.

“Several leading beverage companies continue to make steady incremental progress on source reduction but have not demonstrated strong commitments to using recycled content – a significant driver in reducing the environmental impact of packaging,” said Amy Galland, Ph.D., As You Sow’s research director and author of the study. Only PepsiCo maintains a consistent level of 10 percent recycled PET in all product lines sold in the United States since 2005. Nestlé Waters received the highest score on container recovery for having better recovery goals and stated tactical strategies for attaining them than its peers and it, along with PepsiCo and Red Bull, has stated industry-wide recovery goals.

Brewing companies were notably absent from the survey participants; Anheuser Busch refused to participate. The company received the second highest score in the 2008 edition of the report.

Several survey respondents said that in developing a recycling program, they are most likely to support programs that set recycling fees paid by producers or importers that are included in the price of the product and administered by industry.

The Coca-Cola Company, historically opposed to container deposit systems, indicated it is now “neutral” on a deposit system administered by an independent third party, an apparent softening of its position.

Since As You Sow’s 2008 “Waste & Opportunity” report, there have not been significant increases in recycled content:

  • PepsiCo continues to have the highest use of rPET, 10 percent across all product lines, with a commitment to maintain and increase this percentage.
  • Coca-Cola was unable to meet a commitment to use 10 percent rPET across its product lines in 2010.
  • New Belgium Brewing Company currently uses 50 percent recycled glass, the highest reported, in its 22 oz bottles.
  • Nestlé Waters uses 50 percent recycled PET in its re-source™ brand bottles, but lacks a company-wide commitment for reprocessed PET or rPET.