plastic bottle recycling
Oceana says keeping PET bottles out of oceans requires “collection infrastructure to be introduced in places where none currently exists.”
Photo by Recycling Today staff.

Oceana cites PET recycling disparity

NGO says increased PET bottle collection efforts might not focus on parts of the world where plastic flows into oceans.

Oceana Inc., Washington, says a recent study it commissioned has found targets set by the five largest soft drinks producers “would require collecting an additional 2.57 million metric tons of plastic bottles for recycling each year, [but] “there is no coherent strategy in any global region apart from Europe to reliably increase the supply.”

Oceana says its analysis was conducted by United Kingdom-based Eunomia Research & Consulting. It examined recycled content pledges made by Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo, Nestlé, Danone and Keurig Dr Pepper and attempted to consider the feasibility of hitting those targets and the potential impact on ocean-bound plastic.

In the latter case, Oceana says it is “calling on major beverage companies to adopt or expand strategies that prioritize refillable bottles,” adding, “refillables have proven to be very effective at reducing waste.”

Oceana’s Strategic Initiatives Director Dana Miller says, “This report uncovers some worrying realities. It seems improbable that the recycled content pledges by large soft drink companies will be met and regardless, they won’t go far in helping the oceans.”

The five global companies have pledged to increase postconsumer recycled content in their polyethylene terephthalate plastic (PET) bottles ranging from 25 percent to 50 percent by 2025. Oceana says Eunomia’s analysis shows that “to reliably increase the supply of recycled PET for the production of bottles [would] likely require significant government intervention.”

Problematic for protecting oceans is the disparity in collection methods in developed nations versus those with developing economies. Oceans says Eunomia found that even if the five companies can live up to their pledges, their current commitments would have little impact on reducing aquatic plastic pollution. “This is largely because bottles used for recycling are expected to predominantly be derived from already collected and managed waste streams rather than from mismanaged waste or littering,” Oceana says.

Eunomia Project Director Chris Sherrington says, “Our study found that significantly reducing the flow of used PET bottles to aquatic environments requires collection infrastructure to be introduced in places where none currently exists. While increased demand for recycled content can be expected to lead to a greater focus on obtaining used bottles, it doesn’t necessarily follow that this will all translate into the establishment of new collection infrastructure.”

In 2020, Oceana says it published a report concluding that increasing the market share of refillable bottles by 10 percent in all coastal countries in place of single-use PET bottles “could reduce PET bottle marine plastic pollution by as much as 22 percent.”

Companies own, track and collect such bottles, and people who buy refillable bottles typically return them to the place of purchase in exchange for the deposit, the group says. Refillable bottle systems create less end-of-life material because each bottle can be used up to 20 times if made of PET or up to 50 times if made of glass, Oceana adds.

Oceana has the attention of at least two beverage makers. In February of this year, the Coca-Cola Co. announced a commitment to reach 25 percent reusable packaging by 2030. A month later, PepsiCo announced it would be crafting a goal on reusable and refillable bottles by the end of 2022, the organization says.