Waste & Recycling


Rising Tide of Concern Over Ocean Plastic Pollution: A Growing Impetus for Beverage Container Recycling

A new Australian beverage container recycling program in the state of New South Wales (NSW) marks the largest-scale example to date of the increasing focus on these programs to address marine debris concerns, according to the Container Recycling Institute (CRI). A leading industry authority, CRI reports that data shows these recycling programs can reduce beverage container litter by 50% or more, providing significant benefits to our ocean ecosystems.

“We’ve long known that beverage container deposit systems help mitigate litter and the volume of materials dumped in landfills, but this new program indicates a growing recognition among policymakers that container deposit returns are one of the few proven methods to reduce plastic ocean debris,” said CRI president Susan V. Collins.

She pointed to data from Ocean Conservancy, which works on solutions for a healthy and thriving ocean, noting that a container deposit law in Hawaii cut the beverage container component of litter in half. Collins added, “We now have so much more research, knowledge, and awareness of marine debris that governments can connect the dots, see how harmful these littered beverage containers can be, and take action.”

Plastic Marine Debris: Taking Action

Showcasing this recognition, an Australian Senate committee report in April recommended that the government encourage its states and territories to implement container deposit programs as an effective means to address marine plastic pollution.

Such pollution, besides despoiling shorelines, can kill seabirds and marine life, which mistake plastic items for food. For ocean species not killed by these materials, the toxins in plastic they ingest make their way up the food chain, creating a risk for human seafood consumption. The Australian Senate committee is “concerned that there may be a looming health crisis associated with seafood consumption.”

If the problem remains unchecked, oceans are expected to contain more plastics than fish (by weight) by 2050, according to a new report produced by the World Economic Forum and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. (CRI’s Collins was among the experts consulted for the report.)

NSW plans to launch its beverage container recycling program in 2017, giving a 10-cent refund to consumers who return eligible beverage containers – a key element of the state’s goal to reduce litter volume by 40% by 2020. NSW Premier Mike Baird noted, “We are moving ahead with a container deposit scheme that will get bottles and cans off our streets and beaches and out of our waterways.”

Milestone: Reaching 300 Million People Globally 

The NSW program will cover the state’s 7.5 million residents and is expected to double its beverage container recycling rate to roughly 80%. A container deposit plan in the works in Queensland would reach an additional 4.8 million people, the state’s current population.

The initiative, once implemented, will help beverage container recycling programs reach two key international milestones:

  • The number of people with access to container deposit systems internationally will top 300 million for the first time; and,
  • The number reached by new programs since 2000 will rise to more than 100 million.

Countries with these programs range from the United States, Canada and Australia; to Germany, Switzerland and Austria; to Croatia and Lithuania; and many others. In the United States alone, 90 million people have access to beverage container deposit recycling programs, representing 28% of the nation’s population. Moreover, that 28% of the population accounts for 46% of the nation’s beverage container recycling.

These programs offer a wide array of benefits besides reducing litter, marine debris and landfill expansion:

  • creating recycling industry jobs,
  • saving avoided litter collection costs for both taxpayers and local governments,
  • enabling charitable groups and schools to raise money by collecting and returning containers,
  • improving greenhouse gas emissions reductions associated with greater levels of high-value recycling; and,
  • keeping communities cleaner.

Collins encouraged additional jurisdictions to continue the growth of these programs and reap their significant benefits, noting that CRI can serve as a resource to help establish beverage container recycling without starting from scratch.

The nonprofit Container Recycling Institute is a leading authority on the economic and environmental impacts of used beverage containers and other consumer product packaging. Its mission is to make North America a global model for the collection and quality recycling of packaging materials.

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