Soda Makers Seek More Recycled Plastic

June 7, 2019

Coke, Pepsi, others encourage curb-side recycle pickup, oppose deposit programs in push to get more reusable plastic

Drink companies with ambitious objectives to use more recycled plastic in their packaging are facing a shortage of discarded containers from recycle pickup programs.

Less than a 3rd of the six billion lbs of plastic most frequently used for Beverages bottles and meal containers is recuperated by U.S. recycle pickup programs. Most of what is recuperated becomes polyester fiber for rugs and clothing or plastic sheeting. Just a fifth, some 330 million lbs, ends up in new bottles and meal containers.

Big Beverages-and-meal makers will need four or 5 times that much recycled plastic to meet the targets they have set to satisfy consumer calls to waste less and reuse more, according to the Association of Plastic Recyclers. Coca-Cola Co. wants to use 50% recycled plastic by 2030. Nestlé Waters North America, a unit of Nestlé SA, is striving for 50% recycled plastic in its domestic brands by 2025. PepsiCo Inc. PEP -0.43% aims to use 25% recycled plastic in all of its bottles and packaging by that year. Most of those and other beverage companies use less than 10% recycled plastic in their packaging now.

But the volume of plastic for bottles—technically known as polyethylene terephthalate, or PET—has been stagnant for years.

“We have to increase recycled PET. This is unquestionably one of the biggest challenges in the U.S.,” Simon Lowden, president of Pepsi’s snacks group, said in an interview.

Coke, Pepsi, and other bottled-beverage companies pay millions of dollars annually to improve curb-side recycle pickup through groups such as the recycle pickup relationship. In Atlanta—through a grant of $4 million from the Coca-Cola Foundation—the recycle pickup relationship and city officials this springtime deployed teams of members to city neighborhoods to check recycle pickup bins for contaminants right before collection crews arrive.