Pepsi's new bottle highlights need for recycling policies
I was happy to see Pepsi's announcement of its new, 100% bio-based plastic bottles. Seeing one of the world's largest drink manufacturers reduce its reliance on petroleum and find a use for its agricultural byproducts is definitely cause for celebration. The field of sustainable plastics is driven by two goals: reduce the use of petroleum in the making of plastic products, and reduce the pollution that results from the end of a plastic product's useful life. Pepsi's new bio-PET bottle certainly achieves the first goal. However, if industry and policy makers aren't careful, these new bottles may actually work against the second goal.
When manufacturers use recycled materials to make new products, they typically consume a mix of recycled and new materials. Using recycled material isn't free, and the ratio of recycled to new material consumed is usually based on the marginal prices of the recycled and new materials. That is why you sometimes see packages that say "made of X% post-consumer material"; X% is the most cost effective percentage of recycled material for the manufacturer to use.
Pepsi will replace increasingly expensive petroleum with agricultural byproducts that are bound to be cheaper to use. In doing so, Pepsi will reduce the cost of using new material and, in the process, will reduce the amount of recycled material it uses to make bottles. The upshot? We might actually see more plastic bottles going to the landfill instead of being recycled.
As always, it is important for policy makers to ask how they can enable citizens and businesses to achieve both of the goals of sustainability. Pepsi's new bio-bottles highlight one of the questions facing policy makers: what can be done to make the use of recycled materials more appealing to manufacturers? My question to policies makers is, what can be done to make it cheaper for manufacturers to use recycled materials?