PepsiCo has unveiled the two-year results of its Dream Machine project, which is intended to provide recycling receptacles in high-traffic public places, such as gas stations, retail stores, sports stadiums and others, while also providing consumers an incentive to not trash their recyclables while on the go.
Launched on Earth Day of 2010, the Dream Machines are basically reverse vending machines that allow users to earn points for recycling. These points can then be redeemed for consumer products and services. PepsiCo also used the Dream Machines to tug at the hearts of consumers by pledging to donate $250,000 to the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities, an education and job creation program for returning post-9/11 U.S. veterans with disabilities, for every 10 million pounds of material collected through the machines.
PepsiCo hopes to use those Dream Machines, and also the more traditional bins that the company has distributed (and also called Dream Machines), as part of the cola giant’s goal of increasing the U.S. beverage container recycling rate from 34 percent to 50 percent by 2018, while also increasing the company’s supply of recycled PET for its own bottles.
According to a report released by PepsiCo last week, 93,909,482 plastic bottles and aluminum cans have been recovered from the 4,000 Dream Machine bins and kiosks placed at colleges, grocery stores, shopping malls, gas stations, offices, government facilities and other locations throughout the U.S.
The report highlights how the Dream Machines have quadrupled the number of recycling bins available to residents and visitors in Washington D.C.’s Downtown DC Business Improvement District where it has deployed more than 350 of the bins and kiosks since March 2011. It also commended Florida, which recycled the most of any state through the Dream Machines, recovering 6,926,082 cans and bottles.
So what does that the total amount of bottles and cans mean for weight?
PepsiCo did not answer this question by press time, but did say that 79 percent of the total recovered containers were plastic bottles.
According to the Can Manufacturers Institute website, there are 34.21 beverage cans per pound. With over 19.7 million cans recovered by the Dream Machines, that pencils out to 576,500 pounds of aluminum.
Calculating the weight of PET bottles collected by Dream Machines is a bit trickier.
“Total pounds of PET material is really going to be dependent on what sort of mix of PET bottles they’re getting back in these Dream Machines, and even then the number will be approximate since weights vary not only by bottle type but by brand,” says Kate Eagles, spokesperson for the National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR).
According to Eagles, water bottles are about 13 grams on average, which makes for about 35 bottles per pound. Single-serve carbonated soft drinks are about 22 to 23 grams on average, according to Eagles, which makes for 20 bottles per pound.
By Eagles’ calculations, if all the bottles were water bottles, that would mean about 2.1 million pounds of PET. If all the bottles were CSD single serve, that would work out to about 3.7 million pounds. However, the precise number is likely somewhere in between.
And what about PepsiCo’s efforts to raise the national recycling rate for PET? According to Susan Collins, the executive director of the Container Recycling Institute, the company’s efforts don’t amount to a whole lot.
“While we applaud any efforts to increase recycling, the volumes Pepsi is reporting are statistically trivial, especially when compared to their ambitious goal. Ninety-four million containers isn’t even enough to keep up with the growth rate in the sale of beverages, much less make an impact on the nation’s existing beverage container recycling rate,” wrote Collins in an email to Resource Recycling. “The amount those machines are recycling adds up to less than one-fortieth of one percent of the U.S. beverage containers generated. Therefore, even by their own accounting, they’d have to multiply their efforts by 400 times to reach their goal of a 50 percent recycling rate.”
If PepsiCo really wanted to recover more plastic bottles, according to Collins, they would support the expansion of Massachusetts’ container deposit law, which would be far more effective than the Dream Machine.