Plastic pollution is a huge problem, especially when it comes to beverage containers like plastic bottles. 1 million plastic bottles are now sold per minute and have become symbolic of a disposable system that’s fueling an ecological and environmental crisis.
The good news is that there’s a ready-made system that can all but eliminate one of the biggest sources of plastic pollution.
‘Bottle deposits’ put a small financial deposit on a beverage container at the point of sale that’s returned when you bring back your bottle to the store. Deposits create the incentive and thereby the mechanism to drastically reduce leakage. When this is done the right way return rates exceed 90%.
But deposit systems don’t just reduce plastic pollution, they also reduce carbon emissions, reduce demand for new plastic and create green jobs — a shift towards the circular economy we need.
Deposit legislation could have a huge impact right away but the beverage industry and grocers — who combined are responsible for managing such programs — have been at the heart of resisting and weakening the legislation.
1. I put my empty bottles and cans in the recycling bin. That’s good enough right?
Not exactly. Putting bottles and cans in the curbside recycling bin is certainly better than littering or tossing it in the trash. But when recyclables in the bin are jumbled together into large bales, the quality drops and instead of bottle-to-bottle recycling, the materials are more likely to get downcycled. Worse still, sometimes what we put in the recycling bin still has a high likelihood of ending up in a landfill, incinerator, or the environment. The national recycling rate for plastics is a measly 6%!
On the other hand, a bottle bill provides a clean stream of consistent materials to be used again for the next generation of bottles and cans, and paves the way for switching to reusable beverage containers.
2. I thought recycling wasn’t the answer?
That’s correct. Recycling alone will not get us out of this plastic and climate crisis.
But collecting and recycling packaging that’s prone to entering the environment and can be recycled must be done. A clean stream of like materials ensures a much higher recycling rate and reduces downcycling. That means that bottle bills are helping to reduce the demand for new plastic and other raw materials for the billions of beverage containers being manufactured per year. Most importantly, they set up the return infrastructure that can be used for refill systems – which is the ultimate goal!
The Story of Stuff Project’s report California’s Bottle Bill: The Path to Redemption, reveals a system failing Californians and the environment. A landmark environmental law, the state bottle bill has diverted billions of bottles from landfills, incinerators and the environment, but now finds itself languishing in serious decline.
At the core of this system in crisis are widespread barriers to Californians returning bottles and cans. This results in a significant reserve of unredeemed deposits in state funds and a growing waste crisis: thirteen billion bottles and cans being lost each year.
Tell beverage retailers: take back bottles and cans!
We’re calling on CalRecycle to crackdown on non-compliant retailers who are undermining the deposit return system, a proven solution to plastic pollution.