aluminum can recycling
The Can Manufacturers Institute has expressed support for deposit-return systems, but it is unclear whether beverage producers or retailers will follow suit.
Image provided by Dreamstime

Can makers ready to support bottle bills

Can Manufacturers Institute says it will “catalyze the passage and implementation of” deposit-return systems in the U.S.

November 13, 2021

The Washington-based Can Manufacturers Institute (CMI) has announced that its members, who make beverage cans and aluminum sheet used in cans, are “committing to achieving ambitious U.S. recycling rate targets including a 70 percent recycling rate by 2030.”

Among four steps the CMI lists is to “catalyze the passage and implementation of well-designed deposit systems at the state and federal levels.” Corporations ranging from retailers to beverage producers to can makers have not always endorsed deposit-return systems, or “bottle bills.”

CMI, though, says it wants to demonstrate the can-making industry’s “dedication to ensuring the aluminum beverage can remains the most sustainable package on the market” to beverage companies and consumers.

The organization says the can-making industry recently has “added to its thought leadership on the discussion around a well-designed deposit system.” CMI refers back to a joint statement from this September with the PET plastic and glass bottle industries expressing support for “well-designed deposit systems.”

CMI in the November press release announcing its wider recycling goals for aluminum used beverage containers (UBCs), says it is “advocating for a national deposit system in conversations with lawmakers.” CMI has provided additional insight into its planned approach in an op-ed piece co-authored with Reloop North America and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. 

This March, two United States House of Representatives subcommittees introduced the Climate Leadership and Environmental Action for our Nation’s (CLEAN) Future Act to the House, a bill that includes instructions to institute a national bottle deposit program.

It is unclear to what extent, if any, CMI or legislators will secure cooperation toward greater bottle bill acceptance from Washington-based American Beverage (formerly the American Beverage Association, or ABA).

That organization continues to express support for the collection and recycling of UBCs and other beverage cans and bottles, but on the “Creating Sustainable Solutions” section of its website makes no mention of supporting deposit-return systems.

In gathering information for a 2019 New York Times article on the topic, the ABA told the publication that while in the past it had opposed bottle bills, it now was “open to any ideas” to boost the plastic recycling rate. “This includes a deposit or fee on our containers,” an ABA spokesperson told the Times via email.

Grocery and convenience store retailers are another constituency that at times lines up against bottle bills or deposit-return systems. This March, such a retail consortium in Iowa lost in court in its attempt to refuse compliance with aspects of that state’s deposit-return system.

This January, Norway-based Tomra, a maker of reverse vending machines that can be used for collection in bottle bill programs, produced a white paper describing that its research identified as “four success factors held in common by the world’s highest-performing deposit and return systems (DRSs) for can and bottle recycling.”

Among the four factors was having a producer responsibility aspect to such a system, through which beverage producers “finance and invest in the system using the unredeemed deposits, commodity revenues and an ‘ecomodulated’ extended producer responsibility (EPR) fee.”