The National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR) just released their report of 2009 PET bottle recycling. The report proclaims that the U.S. recycling rate for PET bottles has reached an all-time high of 28%. In the days following the release of the report, there seems to be excitement in the industry about this so-called accomplishment. Is this really something we should be proud of?
By being happy about only recycling 28% of water bottles, we are saying we are okay with throwing away the other 72%. As a society, that’s pathetic. Let’s see how this stat looks if we use other examples…
- I’m proud that I ate 28% of my food and threw the other 72% into the garbage
- I’m proud that I opened the windows 28% of the time and used the air conditioner the other 72%
- I’m proud that I threw away 28% of the garbage I took camping with me and dispersed the other 72% as litter
Suddenly, 28% doesn’t look so good.
This isn’t meant to be a slam on recyclers. Other than a few of the big players in the trash industry, most recyclers are low-profit businesses, so I can’t totally blame them for not helping to drive this number higher. They make money from selling reclaimed materials, so I know they’d like to capture more recyclables. The root issue falls on the shoulders of other parties, and here are some of the reasons:
- Consumers aren’t educated about how and what to recycle. I understand how it can be hard to figure out if odd-shaped containers are recyclable, but doesn’t everyone know that PET bottles (water bottles, soda bottles, etc.) are recyclable?
- Consumers don’t have access to recycling. Curbside programs are pretty ubiquitous. Public-area recycling is shockingly still problematic. It should be against the law to have a trash can without a recycle bin next to it (maybe when I run for President).
- Manufacturers aren’t demanding enough reclaimed materials from recyclers. The economics simply aren’t good enough to cause manufacturers to tip from using virgin resources to recycled. It’s unfortunate.
- Legislation isn’t supportive enough. Tipping fees at landfills are cheaper in most states than recycling fees. Until the government mandates higher tipping fees on landfills, waste haulers will never be incentivized to recycle vs landfill. The UK has done it right by making this change through a tax.
Sure, 28% is better than last year and the year before, but let’s not be complacent. There’s a long way to go.