How the U.S. can create a circular economy and reduce plastic waste

A message from
the American Beverage Association

Policymakers, environmental organizations and business leaders agreed during a private roundtable discussion that cross-sector collaboration is needed to create a circular economy and reduce the amount of plastic waste in the environment, allowing materials to be recycled and remade into new products. 

Why it’s important: Creating a circular economy for recyclable materials is an issue that requires solutions at the national, state and local level. 

  • Experts agreed that the recycling system is broken, with only 9% of all plastic waste ever made having been recycled. 
  • “Recycling isn’t going to deliver the circular economy, but you can’t get a circular economy without fixing recycling,” said an environmental expert during the roundtable. 
  • But, leaders also agreed that many sectors of society are currently taking bold action to work towards building a circular economy.

The goal: To reduce plastic waste and the use of new plastic. 

  • America’s leading beverage companies — The Coca-Cola Company, Keurig Dr Pepper and PepsiCo — are working together on innovative solutions that will create a circular economy and reduce their plastic footprint. 

Through its voluntary Every Bottle Back initiative, the beverage industry is using intentional design, modernization of recycling infrastructures and education to spearhead efforts to achieve a circular economy.

  • America’s leading beverage companies are carefully designing their plastic bottles to be 100% recyclable — even the caps. 

“Our plastic bottles are made to be remade,” says Katherine Lugar, CEO of the American Beverage Association (ABA). “Our goal is for every bottle to become a new bottle, and not end up in places where they don’t belong like oceans, rivers, beaches or as waste in landfills. And that means we are using less new plastic.” 

The idea: We need to work to get every bottle and can back, so they can be remade into new ones.

  • The Every Bottle Back initiative, in conjunction with World Wildlife Fund, The Recycling Partnership and Closed Loop Partners, is guiding a $400 million investment in recycling infrastructure to facilitate creating a circular economy by enhancing material collection and recycling throughout the country.  
  • The initiative is educating the public through a campaign that helps consumers better understand the value of their 100% recyclable bottles. 
  • Because of their high quality and intentional design, the bottles can be remade time and again.

But the beverage industry knows that consumer education alone will not be enough to reach its goals. 

The solution: Leveraging a well-structured producer responsibility collection system can accelerate the beverage industry’s goal to get every bottle back, as well as collect other recyclable materials. 

  • Environmentalists and industry are aligned on this issue and 68% of the American public supports the idea of producers helping to fund a more modern and efficient recycling system. 

The background: Leaders at the roundtable shared the value of a well-structured producer responsibility collection system that would provide an efficient, financially sustainable and convenient collection program for all recyclable materials, including their bottles and cans. 

They agreed that an extended producer responsibility system must: 

  • Be convenient for consumers to recycle consistently and properly.
  • Include all recyclable materials — plastic, aluminum, cardboard, paper, glass.
  • Be operated  by a privately run non-profit with government oversight and funded by private sector fees used exclusively to operate and invest in the system.
  • Provide producers first access to recovered materials for making new products.

One roundtable expert explained: Companies need to take ownership of the lifecycle of their products by embedding reusability into their system and designing and distributing with sustainability goals in mind. 

  • In turn, they must be allowed to operate these systems for maximum effectiveness, ensuring resources remain invested in the system.     

The takeaway: Achieving a circular economy is possible — whether it’s by modernizing existing systems to be more efficient and effective, or by creating a well-structured producer responsibility system.

  • This can accelerate the efforts that businesses — like America’s beverage companies — have already developed.