Last year at this time, Evergreen collected and recycled two billion post-consumer PET bottles a year. Sure, that’s a lot of bottles, but considering how many we now collect and recycle – 11.6 billion a year – that was a drop in the bucket. And we want more. A bazillion more.
Here’s why. The biggest brands – and many of the smaller ones – have listened to consumers who want to purchase products in earth-friendly packaging and are now including recycled content in their packaging. Bottles, jars, and bowls made with recycled plastic, typically rPET, earn a huge thumbs up.
Because of their commitment to reducing plastic waste and protecting the environment, The Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo and Keurig Dr Pepper have partnered with the American Beverage Association on the Every Bottle Back recycling initiative. This includes using recycled plastic, rPET, in new bottles. Other major companies are also on board with using rPET in their packaging. Nestlé has committed to 100% recycled or reusable packaging by 2025 as well as reducing its use of virgin resin by one-third.
To help our customers meet their sustainable packaging goals, Evergreen will produce a minimum of 147 million pounds of rPET this year for customers’ use. That number will go up when our expansion in Clyde, Ohio, is completed in June 2022. It’s exciting to see how so many brands are making good on their promise to use recycled plastic. But with demand for rPET going up, demand for post-consumer PET bottles for recycling is up, too. Way up!
Where Evergreen Currently Gets Our Post-Consumer PET Bottles
One of the busiest people at Evergreen is Mike Sandoval, our director of corporate purchasing. He’s the one responsible for securing post-consumer PET bottles and jars for our recycling services business. An accountant by trade, Mike knows exactly how many bottles we have at our four recycling facilities across North America, how many we need to produce rPET for our customers and how many we want. (Back to that bazillion number.) He’s also the person responsible for sourcing post-consumer and post-industrial PET bottles, jars and scrap through our recycling services business.
It’s a tough job. The reason being is the availability of PET bottles and jars is dependent upon how many people and companies are utilizing their recycling bins. And with just 29% of plastic being recycled – the rest unfortunately goes to landfills and into oceans and waterways – there is plenty of room for improvement in terms of recycling.
Mike explains where Evergreen gets post consumer/post industrial PET pl from:
- Material recovery facilities, also known as “MRFs” (rhymes with Smurfs).These are the folks who work with municipal curbside recycling programs. They sort all recyclables such as cardboard, paper, plastic containers, metal cans, and the like. They then bring the PET bottles and containers to Evergreen in giant bales for processing. The recyclable materials we collect and don’t use goes to other recyclers. For example, aluminum cans go to can recyclers. Very little goes to waste. Learn more about the recyclable byproducts we sell here.
- State-sponsored recycling facilities. California, where our Riverside recycling facility is located, is different from most states. Plastic beverage bottles as well as glass and metal bottles and cans are subject to the California Redemption Value (CRV), a fee consumers pay at the time of purchase. The CRV is five cents for containers less than 24 ounces. Consumers can recoup the CRV when they return their empty beverage containers at the 1,260 recycling centers statewide. It’s a powerful incentive to recycle. It also results in a great source of clean bottles for Evergreen Riverside.
Currently, ten states have bottle deposit laws. In addition to California, the list includes
Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Oregon, and Vermont.
- Other aggregators. There are many small to medium-sized companies that also aggregate recyclable materials like post-consumer PET bottles and jars. Evergreen also gets bottles from these folks.
- Plastic packaging companies. We also have relationships with the companies that make preforms, the intermediate PET form that is blown into a bottle. If preforms are off spec or don’t meet other quality requirements, Evergreen purchases preforms for recycling. We also purchase PET scrap suitable for recycling. Often, we turn around and sell food-grade rPET back to these companies for use in new preforms and ultimately bottles and jars. This is closed loop recycling in its purest form.
Where Is Evergreen Going to Get More Bottles for Recycling?
The short answer is, we’re working on it. Nothing is more important than increasing our volume of post-consumer and post-industrial bottles for recycling. Here are some ways we’re doing that.
- Being the best partner possible to current suppliers. We value the relationships we have with our MRFs, state-owned recycling programs and other aggregators. We bend over backwards to make life easy for them. Some of these relationships are decades old.
- Growing our base of packaging companies. If they use virgin or recycled PET in their packaging products, they will have PET scrap material for recycling. Because we can turn around and supply them with food grade rPET pellet to their specifications, Evergreen is an attractive and highly synergistic partner.
- Reaching out to businesses to start internal recycling programs. Think of all the people who enjoy bottles water, soda, and juice at work. Why make people tote their empties home for recycling or, worse yet, toss them in the trash? Companies with a passion for recycling and implementing sustainability programs in their workplaces can now partner with Evergreen on custom programs. We have collection programs in our own plants. When you make recycling bins available to people, they’ll use them.
- Public awareness. While many people understand the role of recycling in saving our planet and cleaning up our oceans and waterways, far too many are not recycling. They may not have a curbside recycling program in their community. They may not understand the importance of participating when they do. Therefore, Evergreen is making public awareness a top priority, asking our people to lead by example, but also helping to educate kids and adults on recycling.
Every Bottle Back Is What We’re Working Toward. But We Need You.
At Evergreen, every PET bottle or container we collect is recycled into recycled PET (rPET) that goes into new bottles and containers. And every PET bottle or container recycled means fewer go to landfills and in our oceans, along roadways and littering our communities. It’s a simple formula but it’s lacking one thing: 100% participation from everyone. That may sound like a crazy goal, but Evergreen is all in on making it happen. If we’re going truly save the planet and supply rPET to everyone who wants it, we need every PET bottle and container we can get.