While facilities that recycle PET bottles back into food grade plastic are becoming more common, bottle recycling hasn't been the success that Coca-Cola Co. hoped it would be when it opened its polyethylene terephthalate or PET bottle recycling plant in 2009. The Spartanburg S.C. facility was expected at that time to be the foundation of its aspiration to recycle all of its plastic bottles, but the facility hasn't been able to quench its thirst for old bottles.
The plant was projected to recycle over one million pounds of PET bottles last year, but has only generated only one-third of that amount due to lack of material to process. The plant has remained unused much of the current year, but will come back into production this week after retooling to improve quality and lower operating costs, hiring only about half of the 50 workers laid off in March.
The U.S. recycling rate for PET bottles was just 28 per cent in 2009, versus nearly 50% in Europe. Meanwhile, about half of PET recycled in the U.S. is exported. Critics maintain that bottle deposit systems should be extended across the country to boost recycling. Case in point, British Columbia's Return-It deposit system, generates a 75 per cent recovery rate for plastic bottles. Not only that, but plastic from deposit systems is usually cleaner than from curbside pickup.
Bottlers argue that deposit systems unfairly target beverage producers, whose empty containers translate into a small proportion of solid waste, and that beverage containers should be included in curbside programs. Unfortunately, curbside hasn't turned out to be the "real thing" for keeping the recycling plant supplied. None the less, Coke is committed to recycle or reuse 100 per cent of its bottles and cans in the U.S. by 2020.