- Aluminum beverage can manufacturers will advocate for and fund efforts to pass new container deposit laws at the state and federal levels to help boost U.S. aluminum can recycling rates to 70% by 2030, the Can Manufacturers Institute announced Wednesday.
- Container deposit advocacy at the state and federal level is a major facet of CMI’s new plan, which also includes three other “pillars”: increasing and improving household and public recycling, helping MRFs recover more aluminum cans through equipment grant programs, and increasing consumer awareness and action around can recycling by offering initiatives such as a “cash for cans” program.
- The aluminum beverage can recycling rate was 45% in 2020, and the industry says its strategy will help it meet its new 2030 goal, along with an 80% recycling rate by 2040 and a more than 90% rate by 2050.
CMI is among the recycling organizations that have begun voicing more specific support for bottle bills in recent years. Supporters say recyclers of used beverage cans (UBC) are ideal advocates to enter the push because the public already recognizes aluminum cans as highly recyclable.
Scott Breen, CMI's vice president of sustainability, said the group has formed a deposits task force with the Aluminum Association and other stakeholders to push for deposit programs in specific states and at the federal level.
Breen wouldn’t say how much funding could go into lobbying or advocacy work, or which states CMI will focus on, but he stressed it will make those decisions after doing deep research and deciding on a strategy as a collective.
“I imagine it's going to be states where there are a lot of cans used and going to landfill, but also states where we think, politically, we can get something passed,” he said. “That’s ultimately what we need to do to get new deposit systems to get more scrap back and incorporate it into new cans.”
Can manufacturers such as Ardagh Metal Packaging, Crown Holdings and Canpack, and aluminum can sheet suppliers such as Constellium, Kaiser Aluminum and Novelis also announced their support, saying bottle bill states are important sources for UBCs that fuel their manufacturing.
Aluminum can sheet producers recycled about 47 billion UBCs in the U.S. last year, and 40% of those came from the 10 states that have a deposit system, said Raphael Thevenin, vice president for sales and marketing at Constellium. His company “supports new, well-designed deposit systems so that we have additional used beverage cans to turn into new cans in as little as 60 days,” he said during the event.
CMI and its supporters stressed they advocate for “well-designed” deposit systems, which they say means the deposit systems are “easy and convenient,” use the unredeemed deposit money to improve the recycling system, and use “appropriate” deposit amounts no less than 10 cents a can. They also advocate for systems that are managed by one private stewardship organization and include all types of beverage containers.
Susan Collins, president of the Container Recycling Institute, said she was “encouraged” to hear that CMI has made container deposit advocacy a centerpiece of its “ambitious” effort to raise UBC recycling rates.
The swift timeline CMI set means advocates need to begin their legislative strategies as soon as possible, since it can take two or more years for a new bottle bill to take effect after a state passes such legislation, Collins said. “It would be completely doable to get to 70%, but only if they start new deposit laws in new states right away,” she said.
Although lawmakers in multiple states have pushed container deposit law updates or expansions this year, only Connecticut, a state with one of the lowest bottle return rates, was able to pass one. The state will soon begin accepting more types of containers in its redemption program and double bottle deposit values to 10 cents.
Collins said additional lobbying and support from CMI and its allies could help bottle bill advocates make headway in other states in 2022 and beyond. CRI monitors bottle bills in multiple states; Collins said she has her eye particularly on Washington, “which has done a lot of internal work and research reports to study container deposit laws” and may introduce legislation when its legislative session begins.
States including New York, Iowa and Michigan could also make headway on updates of their own, she said. Advocates in New York recently called on Gov. Kathy Hochul to expand the state’s current bottle bill, which it says needs critical updates such as a larger deposit value, more redemption centers and a longer list of accepted containers.
CMI’s “full throated” support of container deposit laws follows that of other major recycling groups that have vocalized support for bottle bills in larger numbers over the past few years, Collins said.
The recycling industry is also monitoring federal bottle bill prospects, namely the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, which calls for a national bottle bill. Some advocates are working to spin off a separate piece of national bottle bill legislation based on the provisions in Break Free.
The Association of Plastic Recyclers voiced its support for bottle bills earlier this year, and groups such as the National Association for PET Container Resources and the Glass Packaging Institute recently joined CMI to release a statement calling for more deposit programs. American Beverage, which represents big bottled beverage companies such as Coca-Cola, once opposed deposits but has recently softened its position to support some types of deposit programs. Reloop and USPIRG also supported CMI's strategy in a joint release on Wednesday, saying the effort will also support the U.S. economy and fight climate change.
Container deposit systems are just one piece of the puzzle, Breen said. CMI is also focusing its efforts on its other pillars, including a “can capture” grant effort it runs with The Recycling Partnership that helps MRFs purchase new equipment such as eddy-current separators. CMI recently announced the city of Milwaukee is the most recent grant recipient; it presented two earlier rounds of grants: the first, in April, to MRFs in Texas and North Carolina, and another in August to one in Florida.
CMI also highlighted its “cash for cans” effort, which encourages people to collect and recycle UBCs at scrapyards, then potentially donate the money to a charity of their choice. The group aims to publish a road map early next year to flesh out its strategy for achieving each of the four pillars, Breen said.