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Drink Manufacturers Seek More Recycled Plastic

Coke, Pepsi, others urge curb-side recycle pickup, oppose deposit programs in push to get more reusable plastic

Beverage companies with aggressive objectives to use more recycled plastic in their packaging are facing a shortage of discarded containers from recycle pickup programs.

Less than a 3rd of the six billion lbs of plastic most commonly used for Beverages plastic bottles and food containers is recuperated by U.S. recycle pickup programs. Most of what is recuperated becomes polyester fiber for rugs and clothing or plastic sheeting. Just a fifth, some 330 million lbs, ends up in newer plastic bottles and food containers.

Big Beverages-and-food makers will need four or five times that much recycled plastic to meet the goals they have set to satisfy consumer calls to waste less and reuse more, according to the Association of Plastic Recyclers. Coca-Cola Co. wants to use 50% recycled plastic by 2030. Nestlé Waters North America, a unit of Nestlé SA, is striving for 50% recycled plastic in its residential brands by 2025. PepsiCo Inc. PEP -0.43% aims to use 25% recycled plastic in all of its plastic bottles and packaging by that year. Most of those and other Drink companies use less than 10% recycled plastic in their packaging now.

Nevertheless the volume of plastic for bottles—technically known as polyethylene terephthalate, or PET—has been stagnant for years.

“We have to increase recycled PET. This is unquestionably one of the biggest challenges in the U.S.,” Simon Lowden, president of Pepsi’s snacks group, said in an interview.

Coke, Pepsi, and other bottled-Drink companies pay hundreds of thousands of dollars yearly to improve curb-side recycle pickup through groups such as the Recycling Partnership. In Atlanta—through a grant of $4 million from the Coca-Cola Foundation—the Recycling Partnership and city officials this spring deployed teams of people to city neighborhoods to check recycle pickup bins for contaminants right before collection crews arrive.