U.S. bottle-recycling rates fall as bottled-water sales rise

Plastic bottle recycling rates in the U.S. have plunged, at least in part because of the boom in sales of bottled water — from some 3.3 billion bottles in 1997 to 15 billion in 2002. So, what to do? Some environmental activists argue that one of the most effective tools for pushing up recycling rates is a deposit law whereby consumers pay 5 to 10 cents more per bottle for their beverages, with the money refunded upon the bottle’s return to a recycling center. Currently, such laws are in place in 11 states, and consumers in those states recycle four out of five bottles, says Patricia Franklin of the Container Recycling Institute. (But only two of those states, California and Maine, now include plastic water bottles in their programs.) A national bottle bill has had varying levels of support in Congress in the past, but the powerful beverage industry largely opposes it, wary of legislation that would add to consumers’ costs and, it argues, hurt sales.