A study of the residential recycling landscape in the United States has found what other statistical measures also indicate: deposit-return systems (DRSs), or bottle bills, help boost the recycling rate of packaging.
The study was commissioned by Colorado-based Ball Corp., which makes aluminum cans and bottles as a large part of its product line. The study was conducted by the New York office of United Kingdom-based Eunomia Research & Consulting.
The 237-page report resulting from the study, which is titled “The 50 States of Recycling: A State-by-State Assessment of Containers and Packaging Recycling Rates,” offers a state-by-state comparison of recycling rates for what the researchers call the most commonly used containers and packaging materials in the U.S.
Ball Corp. and Eunomia have cited several findings, including both bottle bills and investments in curbside collection “are crucial to effective recycling systems;” contamination levels are rising, making many recycling systems less effective; states that collect and react to recycling data achieve higher recycling rates, “demonstrating the importance of accurate measurement in moving the U.S. toward a more circular economy;” and society can benefit if states prioritize recycling materials that have the greatest potential to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions—and that have “the highest value for creating new products.”
Eunomia says it used 2018 data sourced from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), states, counties, municipalities and from operators of material recovery facilities (MRFs). The study looked at plastic bottles and trays, glass bottles and jars, aluminum cans, steel cans and cardboard and boxboard as packaging materials to consider, labeling them as common containers and packaging materials (CCPM).
The study found the 10 states with the highest CCPM (excluding cardboard and boxboard) recycling rates in 2018 were Maine (72 percent); Vermont (62 percent); Massachusetts (55 percent); Oregon (55 percent); Connecticut (52 percent); New York (51 percent); Minnesota (49 percent); Michigan (48 percent); New Jersey (46 percent); and Iowa (44 percent).
The 10 states with the lowest recycling rate for CCPM (excluding cardboard and boxboard) in 2018, the study concludes, were New Mexico (13 percent); Texas (13 percent); Alabama (11 percent); Oklahoma (10 percent); Mississippi (8 percent); South Carolina (8 percent); Tennessee (7 percent); Alaska (6 percent); Louisiana (4 percent); and West Virginia (2 percent).
“Good data is the foundation of smart policy, and this study shows there is enormous opportunity for improving U.S. recycling rates with solutions that are already working in several states,” says Sarah Edwards, director of Eunomia North America. “This report is just one piece of the puzzle. It is crucially important we have consistent and transparent measurement in order to create meaningful change. We want to help policymakers, operators, and investors make more informed strategic decisions when it comes to recycling, infrastructure investment and reducing emissions in waste management.”
“America’s recycling system is broken, but the good news is Americans overwhelmingly support some of the most effective solutions to reform it,” says Ball Corp. Chair and CEO John Hayes. “If we are willing to recapitalize our antiquated recycling system by taking a fresh look at the way we create incentives, invest in adequate infrastructure and change behaviors to drive real recycling, we can lead the country toward a more circular and sustainable future.”
Regarding bottle bills, the study’s findings claim that 3.5 times more polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles and three times more aluminum used beverage cans (UBCs) are recycled in DRS states compared with non-DRS states.
“Understanding the current state of our recycling system is crucial to designing policies, infrastructure and products that support true circularity in our communities,” says Keefe Harrison, CEO of The Recycling Partnership. “This report demonstrates that no one thing will heal recycling’s challenge alone. The key is addressing the system holistically to drive real and meaningful change.”
Access to the full study is available from this web page.