The year is 2021. The American Beverage Association (ABA) has an earth-shattering announcement: They’re working on making every plastic beverage bottle… recyclable.
Didn’t you already think your Coke and Pepsi bottles were fully recyclable? Aren’t we living in a time when we know recycling is not enough to challenge the plastic pollution crisis? Is this real life?
Let’s back up a bit. There’s a new-ish commercial that I hear or see in some form almost every day.
It often plays during my *personal podcast time* and I see a version of the video posted below close to once a day because the pandemic has turned me into a Jeopardy! regular and then we keep the TV on for Wheel of Fortune, which completely ruins my mood because I have this (somewhat) unwarranted hunch that Pat Sajak is a huge asshole and I think the puzzles are fucking inane.
But even more infuriating, some version of this commercial is bound to play during the hour run time of Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune.
If you don’t want to watch, the scene consists of a three nice looking folks in caps who excitedly share the news about a new thing call recycling. The script is as follows:
"We need to reduce plastic waste in the environment. That's why at America’s beverage companies… our bottles are made to be remade. Not all plastic is the same. We're carefully designing our bottles to be 100% recyclable. Including the caps!
They're collected and separated from other plastics so they can be turned back into material that we use to make new bottles. That completes the circle and reduces plastic waste. Please help us get every bottle back.”
Pardon me, are you guys serious?
This 30-second spot truly hurts my brain. With so many words, we receive so very little information.
So, plastic soda bottles were first used commercially in 1947. This video suggests that since 1947 up through right now, plastic beverage bottles haven’t been entirely recyclable and only now has the beverage industry decided to remake plastic bottles out of old plastic bottles.
I am so confused. Isn’t remaking new things out of old the inherent promise of recycling?
So maybe I’m the dumb one, but after a little research I’m learning that plastic drink bottles couldn’t really be turned into new drink bottles until somewhat recently. CarbonLite Recycling is the leader in bottle-to-bottle recycling:
“The CarbonLITE system converts used plastic bottles made of PET back into plastic resin, which is then used to create entirely new bottles. We run a closed-loop system that allows for sustainable consumption with resources reused without degrading the environment. Products made using PET resin are recyclable and highly durable. PET can be recycled numerous times — back into beverage bottles and other products such as food containers, carpet, and clothing.”
Okay? This really doesn’t seem that groundbreaking to me. I get that plastic is complicated and comes in so many different materials, but I also get that billion dollar industries like soda have enough resources to figure out how to make a bottle that can be turned into another bottle.
Still, nowhere in the ABA’s advertisements are we told how many bottles will be remade out of recycled plastic or how the process will affect (re: decrease?) the production of new plastic materials, which relies on fossil fuels and the blood of kittens.
IN SUMMARY: The commercial is designed be vapid while spewing virtuousness. The message is: Buy plastic bottles, recycle them, believe that you alone have the power to keep a little circle going, and feel good about it. Repeat.
On the ABA’s campaign website, which is, I kid you not, called InnovateNaturally.org (fuck OFF), the message gets even more diluted: “Our goal is for every bottle to become a new bottle, and not end up in oceans, rivers, beaches and landfills. And that means we are using less new plastic.”
The words “our goal” is the biggest form of commitment the ABA is willing to give at this time.
I think the concept of turning already-existing plastic into something usable is smart, so this isn’t the problem I’m having with this stunning campaign. The way to stop plastic from ending up in nature is to stop producing it, and also to help people find new ways to reuse and refill when they do want to buy your dumb products.
There is absolutely zero clear or concrete plan associated with the ABA’s exciting announcement that recycling is something that can be done. Instead, it offers a meaningless promise that bottle producers *want* oceans to be clean. Well that’s good, guys.
What the messaging very purposefully lacks is any acknowledgement of why we’re in this polluted place to begin with. The ABA takes not a SHRED of responsibility, despite the fact that:
Year after year, Coca Cola, Nestlé, & PepsiCo are found to be the world’s biggest plastic polluters
(enlarged for the people in the back)
This has been the M.O. of the beverage and plastic industries from the start: Paint a pretty picture that suggests we all sure do want a clean planet, but do literally nothing to get to work — just suggest to the consumer that recycling is their job and will ultimately be the solution.
I’m not bothering to reach out to the ABA because THIS IS MY BLOG and I also know, if they decide to respond, they will tell me they are “partnering with communities” to get “more recycling bins in more places,” like ~the beach~, the park, and street corners.
I would like to see more recycling bins available, but I would also like to see the ABA actually take responsibility and to stop hiding behind the guise of plastic recycling over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.
Ah, felt good to get that all out, you know?