PET water bottle necks.

Data from California shows some major beverage producers used lower percentages of post-consumer resin in 2020 than they did in 2019. | tezzstock / Shutterstock

The clock is ticking on California’s law mandating recycled plastic in drink bottles, and some beverage producers still have a long way to go, newly released data reveals.

California officials posted plastic usage reports showing that some major beverage producers, including Coca-Cola North America, Niagara Bottling, PepsiCo Bottling Group and Nestle Waters US, actually used lower percentages of post-consumer resin (PCR) in 2020 than they did in 2019, the year before COVID-19 struck North America.

And the documents show a number of other well-known brand names continued using zero recycled plastic last year.

Meanwhile, the Golden State’s recycled-content requirements are fast approaching. Passed and signed into law last year, Assembly Bill 793 mandates that all plastic bottles covered by the state’s container redemption program average at least 15% PCR starting in 2022. That mandate increases to 25% in 2025 and 50% in 2030.

Many major drink makers are already exceeding the 15% PCR mandate – some by significant margins – but others are way short. The following are 2020 (and 2019 comparison data when available) PET numbers from California beverage producers using at least 1 million pounds of PET and some level of PCR (organized by largest plastic user to smallest): 

Coca-Cola North America: 171.57 million pounds of total PET, 10% of which was PCR (down from 19% in 2019).

Niagara Bottling (also a private label producer for Walmart, Safeway, Costco and others): 130.86 million pounds, 20% PCR (down from 35% the year before).

Pepsi Cola Bottling Group: 97.30 million pounds, 18% PCR (down from 20%).

CG Roxane-Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring Water: 50.69 million pounds, 37% PCR (up from 20%). 

Nestle Waters US: 48.07 million pounds, 33% PCR (down from 36%).

Premium Waters (also a private label producer): 8.05 million pounds, 72% PCR (up from 0% PCR).

Hydration Source (water producer): 3.84 million pounds, 12% PCR (up from 0.3%).

Chameleon Beverage (water producer): 2.06 million pounds, 48% PCR (up from 47%).

Danone Waters of America: 1.60 million pounds, 23% PCR (up from 20%).

Dolgen California (owner of Dollar General stores): 1.29 million pounds, 11% PCR (down from 17%).

The following are companies that used at least 1 million pounds of virgin PET but reported either zero PCR used or omitted PCR data entirely (ordered from largest to smallest plastic user): 

  • BA Sports Nutrition (owner of the Body Armor drink brand): 42.63 million pounds.
  • American Bottling (Dr Pepper Snapple Group’s wholly owned bottler): 19.13 million pounds.
  • Crystal Geyser Water Co. (sparkling water producer that operates independent of CG Roxane but has some shared ownership interest): 7.12 million pounds.
  • Lassonde Pappas and Company: 4.63 million pounds.
  • Mott’s: 4.39 million pounds.
  • FIJI Water: 4.16 million pounds.
  • Unix Packaging: 3.59 million pounds.
  • Arizona Beverages USA: 2.93 million pounds.
  • Langer Juice Co.: 2.05 million pounds.
  • Refresco Beverages US (independent bottler): 1.05 million pounds.

Under AB 793, starting in 2023, manufacturers that miss the PCR targets are subject to penalty fees of 20 cents for each pound of PCR they fall short, although the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) can reduce the penalties based on certain factors. 

Starting in 2025, the CalRecycle director has the authority to lower the recycled-content targets either of their own accord or after receiving a petition from beverage manufacturers. The law doesn’t allow the director to lower the targets before 2025, however. 

It’s unknown whether the downfall of nationwide PET reclaimer CarbonLite, which had its headquarters and first plant in the Los Angeles area, played into RPET usage decreases in 2020. Niagara, Nestle Waters and PepsiCo were among CarbonLite’s customers, some of which decreased or canceled their RPET purchases after CarbonLite unilaterally increased its resin prices. CarbonLite CEO Leon Farahnik previously told Resource Recycling that COVID-19 closures also reduced the amount of deposit containers being redeemed in the state, squeezing feedstock supply for CarbonLite.  

California’s recycled-content requirements are relatively new, and they may inspire other states to pass similar laws. Washington state already has

But the requirement that beverage producers disclose their recycled-plastic usage in California goes back several years. Assembly Bill 2530, passed and signed into law in 2016, began requiring producers of beverages in the state’s container deposit program to annually disclose the amount of virgin and recycled plastic they used in California starting in 2017. CalRecycle has posted the data online for the public to see. 

Over the years, producers have submitted a wide array of numbers with little consistency. Some report pounds, others report kilograms and others submit data in tons, without indicating whether they’re short or metric tons. Some companies report PRC percentages but not weights, and still others submit forms with little to no information. 

For the 2020 data, however, CalRecycle staff adjusted the submittals to provide some standardization, converting all numbers to pounds. That allows for easier comparisons between companies and from year to year. 

A version of this story appeared in Plastics Recycling Update on September 29.

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