Our reliance on foreign markets to resolve the flaws in our recycling system was exposed for all to see when China refused to take any more of our contaminated recyclables. Suddenly we were confronted with the poor job we’ve done at modernizing our recycling infrastructure, creating markets for recyclable material domestically and telling consumers about the best ways to recycle, as a recent Changing America article pointed out.

The good news is this wake-up call is spurring action aimed at fixing these flaws that could foster the growth of the circular economy and reinvigorate our recycling system, so it does what it is supposed to do: collect all recyclables here so they are remade into new products.

The beverage industry is doing their part and believes there is room to grow the circular economy for recyclable material in the U.S. However, it can only happen if all those involved in the recycling system – businesses, governments and nonprofits – reinvest in innovative ways that will lead to an increase in the recyclables that are collected and remade rather than landfilled or discarded. 

That’s why competing companies that make up the American Beverage Association (ABA) recently joined together to launch the Every Bottle Back initiative, a sustained effort aimed at increasing the collection of plastic bottles so they can be remade into new bottles, reducing our reliance on new plastic and making investments in recycling infrastructure. These investments will be made through a new $100 million industry fund that will leverage $400 million with matching grants in key regions across the country. It’s meant to be a catalyst that spurs action from all those involved in growing the circular economy.

Government is now leaning into the solution as well. U.S. Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) introduced the Recycling Enhancements to Collection and Yield through Consumer Learning and Education (RECYCLE) Act, which would authorize up to $15 million per year for grants to states, local governments, native tribes, nonprofits and public-private partnerships to ensure communities and consumers recycle better.

Additionally, a group of members of the House of Representatives recently launched the Congressional Plastics Solutions Task Force to explore ideas around plastics recycling and waste management issues.

These initiatives from the private and public sector are both important developments, but also a recognition that there’s no one silver bullet for America’s recycling challenges. 

We must work together with local governments to make significant infrastructure investments, modernize technology, boost collection rates and provide greater access to recycling collection at home. We also must boost educational efforts to restore consumer confidence that their own contributions have a real impact every time they opt to recycle – a core goal of the Every Bottle Back initiative.

The RECYCLE Act has already garnered broad bipartisan support, as well as backing from some of the nation’s preeminent sustainability experts. Together, alongside the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Recycling Partnership and others, the American Beverage Association is proud to back this new legislation and encourage its expeditious passage.

Congressional action and legislation is just one piece of the puzzle. We must bring together all stakeholders to develop a multipronged approach that will accelerate progress for an estimated 20,000 distinct recycling programs across the nation.

We urge lawmakers and industry leaders alike to rally behind bedrock efforts like the RECYCLE Act, which builds on private sector efforts now underway that will make it easier for Americans to recycle and work towards a truly circular economy.

Katherine Lugar is president and chief executive officer of the American Beverage Association.  The association is the leading policy and public education advocate for the non-alcoholic beverage industry.  The association’s membership includes America’s leading beverage companies – The Coca-Cola Company, Keurig Dr Pepper, PepsiCo – as well as bottlers, which together represent communities from coast to coast.

Published on Jan 20, 2020