ST. PAUL — A Minnesota trade group plans to boost plastic bottle recycling efforts in the state as part of a national soft drink industry campaign.
It's still in the planning phase, but Minnesota Beverage Association executive director Tim Wilkin said the regional leg of the campaign calls for the deployment of new recycling bins in public places and the development of new recycling businesses.
"I think there’s a growing need and demand for recycled material,” Wilkin said in an interview. "We’ve always designed our bottles and caps with the intention that they be reused."
The "Every Bottle Back" campaign is being organized by the American Beverage Association and three of the nation's largest plastic bottle distributors: the Coca-Cola Company, Keurig Dr. Pepper and PepsiCo. The three have made a $100 million pledge to a matching fund to be used for investment in regional recycling infrastructure.
In the campaign's cross-hairs is polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, a material commonly used to make soft drink bottles and other liquid containers. According to the American Beverage Association, it can be recycled and remade as clothing, carpeting and even playground equipment.
Wilkin, a former Minnesota state representative, said the catalyst for the campaign was the industry and consumer desire to keep plastic, which does not decompose organically, out of landfills, parks, streams and lakes. One way he said his organization hopes to do that is by placing more plastic bottle recycling bins in publicly accessible places.
The Minnesota Beverage Association used to sponsor a recycling program in a partnership with the Recycling Association of Minnesota that deployed bins to convenience stores throughout the state.
Another way to strengthen Minnesota's recycling system, Wilkin said, would be to attract a manufacturer that purchases recycled plastic material. He stressed that plans to do so are still in the "very early stages."
Several processing plants in Minnesota, called materials recovery facilities, already accept recyclables to break down and bundle up for resale. It would help them immensely, Wilkin said, to have an in-state end-user to sell to.
At this time, Wilkin said the Minnesota Beverage Association does not have a specific amount of money that it is looking to spend for the campaign.
The organization's announcement that it would take part in the campaign was warmly received by the Recycling Association of Minnesota, said executive director Brita Sailer.
"I think that will give us many opportunities to recapture some of the materials we used to collect," she said, referring to the recycling program the two groups operated.
That program was scaled back partly because of China's decision to stop importing recycled plastics in 2018, Sailer said. While Minnesota itself did not rely heavily on the Chinese salvage market, she said, the ban did have a ripple effect on the cost of doing business for recycling companies.
Still, Minnesota law does not allow landfills to accept recyclable materials. The state recycled and composted nearly 45% of its trash in 2017, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, nearly 2.3 million tons.
While Wilkin said that he is not aware of any notable efforts to create biodegradable plastics, there is support for their development within the industry.