By Giulio Boccaletti, Ph.D., Managing Director for Global Water at The Nature Conservancy
Visit a country like Germany and you will be hard pressed to find a public venue without a recycling bin. Multicolor containers stand at seemingly every corner, labeled to help sort the remains of your lunch from soda bottle to banana peel. To be fair, accessibility is not the only reason behind Germany’s success, but it’s an indispensable part of the solution.
Although I knew the United States had some catching up to do in this area, I was surprised to find out that recycling bins are, in fact, only available 12 percent of the time at “away-from-home” locations. Compare that to a staggering 62 percent in Germany (in 2010).
Overall, the beverage container recycling rate in the United States sits at 42 percent. Yet, recent surveys by PepsiCo show that more than 80 percent of Americans say they would recycle beverage containers at retail and public locations if bins were available. This tells me consumers are ready to recycle more than current opportunities allow—especially outside of their homes.
It is statistics like these that inspired The Nature Conservancy and PepsiCo to launch a new initiative that will increase the number of places where people can recycle. The initiative has the added incentive of protecting drinking water in the United States, as recycling reduces the amount of water (sometimes a gallon or more) needed to produce a new bottle or other beverage container.
This five-year collaboration, “Recycle for Nature,” will expand availability of recycling bins across the country, beginning at gas stations and convenience stores where many beverage containers are bought, consumed, and currently, tossed into garbage cans destined for the landfill.
PepsiCo research shows that recycling is the number one activity that most Americans believe they can do to help the environment. And, 46 percent say that preserving water resources is the reason they recycle. This data indicates that recycling is a way for consumers to show their support for water conservation. Recycle for Nature makes this link more tangible, giving people a chance to take action and drive drinking water conservation by recycling more often.
What’s more, for every one point increase in the U.S. beverage container recycling rate each year, this collaborative effort will generate an additional donation to directly support the Conservancy’s work to secure drinking water with the goal of reaching up to $1 million total each year for five years.
At that pace, we could collectively conserve more than one billion gallons of water by protecting and improving the efficient use of our natural sources of water for 35 million people (one in nine Americans). And as seen on our “Liquid Courage” website, water conservation is becoming increasingly important as water demand increases.
Recycle for Nature will support conservation of clean water sources spanning nine states, including the Colorado River, the South Platte River in Denver’s Front Range Forests, the Verde River in Arizona, Kings River in Arkansas and North Carolina’s Cape Fear River. Over time, we hope the program’s success will allow it to expand to other areas.
We believe that increased access to recycling can help do for the United States what it has done for countries like Germany, which is to drastically increase the rate of people recycling in public areas. This isn’t just about reducing waste and greenhouse gas emissions; it’s about conserving water, our most precious resource.