As CBC science reporter Nicole Mortillaro reported recently, single-use plastic water and pop bottles are choking the planet.
Knowing that, many of us make an effort to drink from reusable bottles instead — but not everyone does this. Big companies like Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Dr. Pepper are making efforts to boost the feeble recycling rates for PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles in the U.S. — just 29 per cent in 2017 — by investing in consumer education and recycling infrastructure.
Some beverage companies say they’re also trying to increase their own recycled plastic content, which averages less than 12 per cent globally for Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Nestlé.
Meanwhile, a number of smaller companies made the switch to 100 per cent recycled plastic bottles years ago. They include two Canadian companies — Mirabel, Que.-based Naya and Shelburne, Ont.-based Ice River Springs, which have been using exclusively post-consumer plastic waste since 2009 and 2010, respectively. And it’s making a big difference.
Ice River Springs estimates it uses 80 to 85 per cent of the PET plastic collected by recycling programs in Ontario (along with some collected in the northern U.S).
“A lot of our blue box material stays right here,” said the company’s sustainability manager, Crystal Howe. “In Ontario, the circular economy for PET is thriving.” (That’s company co-owner Jamie Gott drinking from a 100 per cent recycled plastic bottle in the photo above.)
Using recycled plastic is more expensive, which is one reason that large beverage companies use very little. The cost was a challenge for Ice River Springs, but Howe said the company came up with a solution: “We started making it ourselves.”
It launched a subsidiary called Blue Mountain Plastics, which buys 29,000 tonnes of plastic from municipal recycling programs each year, processes it and turns it into recycled plastic flakes. The PET from plastic bottles and clamshell containers (used to hold things like blueberries or muffins at the grocery store) is used to make Ice River’s green plastic bottles, as well as the blue plastic bottles for store brands that commission the company as a manufacturer.
Meanwhile, Blue Mountain turns the bottle caps into plastic chairs.
Ice River Springs estimates its use of recycled plastic reduces the energy needed to make one bottle by 70 per cent and the water consumption to do so by 99 per cent.
While many major beverage companies sell water in clear, colourless bottles, Ice River Springs found it couldn’t use as much of the plastic collected by recycling programs if it did that, since a proportion of that plastic is coloured.
Howe said when she talks to other beverage companies about using recycled plastic, one of their big concerns is how consumers will react to the different look of the bottle.
At first, Ice River customers found the switch to green bottles weird.
“Now,” she said, “they’ve embraced it.”