Plastic Pollution Must End, But is Banning or Recycling the Way to Go?
The COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed the way we confront public health threats. The voracious nature of the virus and its rapid spread prompted new ways of thinking about treatments, sanitation and protective equipment.
It became clear early on that plastic packaging would play a vital role in protecting consumers. But not all plastic is alike, and the need for safety does not require that we sacrifice our commitment to sustainability – as consumers or manufacturers. By making the right choices, we can prevent plastic waste from ending up in our oceans, beaches or parks.
Plastic bottles should be recycled and remade into new bottles or other consumer products to prevent litter and conserve resources. That vision is what led to the development of polyethylene terephthalate, or PET for short. PET is the plastic used for beverage bottles, and it is unique among plastics because it is 100% recyclable.
When PET is recycled as intended, it can be remade into millions of new products many times over, reducing the need for new plastic and lowering our carbon footprint. Because PET is a high-grade, versatile plastic, it remains in high demand by producers, making it especially valuable.
In fact, PET is the most recycled plastic in the world. In the United States, PET plastic is accepted in all recycling systems because it can be resold easily, reducing the expense to consumers. PET also has a lower carbon footprint than other containers.
Of course, only about 7% of the plastic used in the United States takes the form of PET beverage bottles. The other 93% of plastics take other forms, including many not recycled at the same rate, if at all. That’s why it’s vital we take a fresh look at the broader marketplace and adopt strategies that make sense for plastics that create problems, as well as those that create opportunities.
These are the goals behind efforts by the American Beverage Association (ABA) and the National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR). We are working together to remind consumers that PET is designed to be remade, not tossed away.
The ABA has launched Every Bottle Back, an integrated and comprehensive initiative of America’s leading beverage companies to reduce the industry’s use of new plastic in partnership with environmental and sustainability leaders. The companies have marshaled the equivalent of nearly a half-billion dollars to educate consumers as well as improve recycling systems with modern technology and state-of-the-art infrastructure. At the same time, NAPCOR is raising awareness of the unique value of PET through its Positively PET campaign to reduce plastic refuse and further reduce PET’s carbon footprint by remaking bottles endlessly.
These efforts are making a direct impact in communities like the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, where ABA recently announced a nearly $3 million investment in recycling and consumer education. This investment will give more Texas families access to recycling, boost collection, and reduce the need for new plastic.
And local efforts can make a big difference. If 200,000 residents recycle just one additional PET bottle per day, it can eliminate 1,150 tons of greenhouse gas emissions, conserve 32 billion BTUs in energy, and add as much as $800 million to the economy by way of new jobs and economic activity.
To create a world free of plastic in nature, we must work together to ensure that we are creating a truly circular economy. That starts with picking the right plastic, but it doesn’t end there. Our industries are committed to improving the collection and remaking of PET plastic bottles, and we hope to see those efforts serve as a catalyst for other industries ready to make an impact for future generations.
Katherine Lugar is President and CEO of the American Beverage Association.
Darrel Collier is Executive Director of the National Association for PET Container Resources.