Beverage Container Recycling

As You Sow engaged beverage companies to set container recycling and recycled content goals and beverage and food retailers like to take responsibility for collection and recycling of beverage and food containers left in their restaurant and stores. Much of this work now takes place under the Consumer Packaging initiative.

In 2013, McDonald’s agreed to replace expanded polystyrene foam beverage cups with more environmentally responsible paper-based cups at all 14,000 U.S. restaurants, and competitor also Dunkin’ Donuts agreed to phase out foam cups within two to three years. Through shareholder dialogue and the filing of proposals, As You Sow secured commitments from Starbucks and three of the largest U.S. beverage companies for quantitative bottle/can recycling goals:

  • Nestlé Waters North America agreed to an industry recycling goal of 60% of PET bottles by 2018
  • PepsiCo announced an industry recycling goal for 50% of PET, glass bottles and aluminum cans by 2018
  • Coca-Cola agreed to recycle 50% of its own PET, glass bottles, and aluminum cans by 2015. The company did not meet the 50% goal for the U.S., where its recycling rate was at about 42% at the end of 2015. However, it did meet a related goal to recycle 50% of bottles and cans globally. We continue to engage with the company on increasing recycling.

As You Sow is now building on these successes to engage more broadly with consumer packaging companies in the food and beverage industry though our new consumer packaging initiative.

One effort that remains focused on the beverage sector is with Dr Pepper Snapple Group. As the third largest soft drink company after Coke and Pepsi, they should have developed bottle/can recycling goals to match those made to us cited above.

As You Sow also publishes a unique survey and report card ranking beverage industry performance on the environmental attributes of containers and efforts on container recovery. Alex McIntosh, Nestlé Waters’ director of corporate citizenship, credited As You Sow’s 2006 Scorecard and subsequent dialogue as “getting our attention and encouraging us to look at the recycling challenge more broadly.”

After engagement with As You Sow, Nestlé Waters became the first major beverage producer to support legislation that increases container recovery rates and, in October 2008, the first to support an industry-wide recovery goal for PET plastic.


Last year, over 200 billion beverage containers were sold and over 130 billion of those containers ended up in landfills or were incinerated. Beverage container recycling rates have been declining nationally from 54% in 1992 to less than 36% today.

Most people don’t realize that beverage container recycling has a direct impact on climate change and energy security. If all of the beverage containers that were wasted last year had been recycled, 15.6 million metric tons of greenhouse gases would have been avoided, the equivalent to emissions from 36.2 million barrels of oil, which is equal to 52 days of oil imports from Iraq.

Using recycled materials is one way that beverage companies can reduce emissions and energy use. Making containers from recycled content uses significantly less energy and fossil fuels in their production than using virgin materials: recycled aluminum uses 95% less energy, recycled plastic uses 30% less energy, and recycled glass uses 35% less energy.