December 13th, 2013 by

By Marcelene Sutter

Recycling was much more intuitive when common beverages, like milk, were served in glass bottles.

Recycling was much more intuitive when common beverages, like milk, were served in glass bottles. Credit: Sheran/Flickr

“Reduce, reuse, recycle.” It’s a familiar mantra, splashed across posters in elementary schools across the country. Recycling itself is not a new concept — archaeological digs have revealed that the practice may date back further than the Neanderthals. The reasons for recycling bottles are abundant and well-known: Recycling plastic bottles reduces carbon dioxide emissions from the bottle-making process and conserves space in landfills.

So why are Americans slacking off in terms of recycling? In a recent article in the Huffington Post, Bill Chameides of Duke University’s School of the Environment, writes that there are two main causes that could explain the lack of recycling: increases in single-use bottles and increases in consumption. Since the 1950s, beverages are increasingly sold in aluminum or plastic containers, instead of in glass bottles. When glass bottles were used for milk, recycling was vital to the transaction; if people did not put their bottles out for the milkman, they did not receive the product. These new materials make recycling less intuitive and this, coupled with skyrocketing bottled beverage consumption rates, has caused ad decline in recycling to become an issue.

Bottle bills provide monetary incentives for people to recycle their bottles.

Bottle bills provide monetary incentives for people to recycle their bottles. Credit: Vincent Brown

The solution to this problem seems to be offering incentives; the recent “Bottled Up” report released by the Container Recycling Institute reveals that the 11 states that offer bottle bill incentives, where people can receive cash back for recycling their bottles, account for nearly half of all recycling across the United States. Enacting this type of bill is often an uphill battle for states, which may face corporate opposition from bottling companies and beverage distributors.

If you feel strongly about the rising levels of landfills and the lack of recycling in the United States, there are several ways that you can help the environment, beyond simply recycling all of your bottles. Using reusable water bottles instead of single-use plastic bottles is a great start and, though it requires a bit more work, only purchasing beverages from pro-recycling bottling companies can send a strong message as well.

This is my last blog post as an American Forests intern, and I want to thank the Loose Leaf team for allowing me to write for the blog this semester. I have truly enjoyed exploring environmental current events, and have appreciated all of the thoughtful comments left by readers. Thank you for a great semester!