A new report on beverage container recycling suggests that we can double recovery of beverage containers - and save money at the same time. These are the unexpected findings of Understanding Beverage Container Recycling: A Value Chain Assessment, a study carried out under the watchful eyes of both beverage industry and environmental representatives.
This ground-breaking study is the first accomplishment of the Multi-Stakeholder Recovery Project (MSRP), a project of Businesses and Environmentalists Allied for Recycling (BEAR). BEAR works under Global Green USA to pursue a 'fact-based approach to public policy making' in order to break through the traditional impasse between supporters and opponents of so-called 'bottle bills.'
Based on the report, a group of NGO and government participants developed the following list of essential elements of a modified deposits system. For detailed presentations of systems that embody some of these elements, follow links to descriptions of deposit systems in Alberta and British Columbia, Canada, and California, USA.
BENEFITS OF A MODIFIED
KEY ISSUES TO RESOLVE IN MSRP PHASE II
As the MSRP moves into Phase II, including refining the adopted recovery programs, preparing a detailed implementation plan and securing needed support and other commitments, a variety of issues will need to be resolved.
Producer responsibility. As the party in the value chain with the greatest control over package design and product marketing, the brand-owner (party whose brand appears on the beverage container) should be ultimately responsible for meeting the 80% recovery goal.
Program management. A key element that must be addressed is whether the program would be managed by government or industry. The California [link to California model page] deposit program is government-managed; however, other countries and jurisdictions have implemented industry-managed systems for recycling. An industry-managed system can be designed to provide producers with the responsibility for meeting the 80% recovery goal, but provide them with the flexibility to design and implement the system. The most relevant examples are the deposit system in Alberta and British Columbia, Canada, which is managed by an industry-funded, non-governmental organization.
If an industry-managed approach is developed, it should be established through legislation which would establish the goal of 80% recovery across all beverage types and all container types, in order to level the playing field for all beverage producers. The legislation should also establish certain design requirements for the beverage container recovery system to achieve the objectives in the BEAR pledge and MSRP principles. Brand-owners would be responsible for reporting on progress towards meeting the material recovery goal. Government would review and approve beverage container recovery business plans, through monitoring reports of system performance and progress toward interim benchmarks and the 80% goal.
Incentives for refillables. The report did not analyze the value chain of a well-developed refillable bottle system. Refillables are an important zero waste strategy because they are far more energy and resource efficient than traditional one-way containers and they stimulate local economic growth and enable local manufacturers to more effectively complete for beverage market share.
Deposit level (2½ - 10 cents). Clearly, a higher deposit provides a greater incentive to recycle and leads to higher recycling rates. Amongst the ten deposit programs, the recycling rates were reached in 1999:
Based on the existing states, it appears that a 5 cent deposit should be the minimum level to ensure achievement of an 80% recovery rate.
Developing opportunities to recycle. A modified redemption system takes advantage of substantially reduced costs through the use of recycling centers in the private sector. Many areas of the country currently do not have an extensive recycling infrastructure and would require additional efforts to develop opportunities for the public to recycle the development of private sector beverage container recycling centers will create economic opportunities in local communities.
Type of recycling cost reimbursement. A critical element of a modified redemption system is providing a financial incentive to recycling centers. While handling fees in traditional deposit programs (typically 1-3 cents/container) are simple to calculate, they typically do not reflect the true cost of recycling between material types. As a result, aluminum containers typically subsidize the higher costs of recycling glass and plastic containers. A variable fee system could be based upon the net cost of recycling for each material type. Such a fee structure would internalize the costs of recycling each container type and would reflect the actual changes in recycling costs and scrap values, encouraging a reduction in recycling program costs and an increase in the use of high-value end-use markets.
Use of unredeemed
deposits. Depending upon the recycling rate, deposit programs can
generate tremendous revenue from unredeemed deposits. Amongst the ten
programs, two programs have an escheat provision whereby deposits revert
to the state. The remaining traditional deposit programs allow unredeemed
deposits to remain within the recovery system to help cover the costs
of managing the program. The California
program is managed by the state which holds all unredeemed deposits and
uses those funds to support a variety of recycling programs and program
administration. Likewise, the British
Columbia, program allows producers to use beverage container funds
to manage the beverage container system, and does not require the beverage
industry to subsidize other environmental programs.