PepsiCo in $100m initiative for plastics recycling

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Photo by Pepsico Foundation The All in One Recycling challenge will fund curbside carts for more than 550,000 single-family households.

PepsiCo is funneling millions of dollars into the Recycling Partnership in an effort, in part, to drastically increase the number of plastic containers being recycled from curbside collections.

The beverage and snack-food giant is pledging $10m (€8.6m) over five years to the new All In On Recycling challenge that aims to attract $100m (€86m) for curbside recycling programs.

The decision to put more weight behind the Recycling Partnership comes after PepsiCo has been funding the nonprofit to a much smaller degree for the past couple of years as the company learned about its work.

PepsiCo, through its foundation, is kicking in its $10m (€8.6m) in an effort to attract a total of $25m (€21.6m) in direct donations to the partnership. That money will then be used in matching grant programmes to commit a total of $100m (€86m) toward curbside efforts.

PepsiCo has been working on a variety of recycling initiatives during the past several years, said Tim Carey, senior director of sustainability. And that work showed that curbside collection provides the most bang for the buck when it comes to volumes, he said.

“The one thing we found out, remarkably, single- family residences in particular are still underserved in a large part of the country,” Carey said. “So we went looking for partners, and we found one in the Recycling Partnership that was really perfectly suited to quickly address markets that are completely unserved or underserved.”

PepsiCo will continue to make investments in other recycling initiatives, he said.

Keefe Harrison is CEO of the Recycling Partnership, based in Falls Church, Va.

“This will be a lot of work, but I’m heartened in that we see more interest in companies wanting to be involved and be seen as problem solvers than ever before. We know that consumers want to see actions from the brands they trust,” Harrison said.

PepsiCo’s funding along with the funding goal for the entire program exceeds what the partnership has had at its disposal to date.

The group received $10m (€8.6m) of direct funding from 2014 through 2017, money it used to leverage another $25m (€2.6m) in matching grants for a total of $35m (€30m).

The new effort follows a similar blueprint as the partnership’s existing recycling efforts, but with one nuance. All In On Recycling also will commit more resources to finding recycling solutions at multi-family housing units.

A key approach to the effort is making residential recycling easier. And one way to do that is to provide wheeled recycling carts. These carts are easier to handle than recycling bins and provide much more capacity to store materials until collection day.

That’s important as more communities have turned to single-stream recycling programs that allow residents to mix their recyclables in one container.

Half of the new program’s cash will be split between providing new curbside carts to single-family homes and creating infrastructure to collect recyclables from multi-family housing. The other half will be used on recycling education and operations.

The model of the new program follows partnership’s approach of providing carts as well as education and technical support to help improve recycling.

While Purchase, New York-based PepsiCo said the donation is part of its responsibility to communities, word of the program set off immediate response from some environmental groups. While there has long been a debate over single-use plastics, and plastics in general, the issue has been picking up recent steam as ocean pollution is capturing more attention.

Kate Melges, a plastics campaigner with Greenpeace, said “Pepsi has missed the mark.”

“We know that recycling will never solve the crisis, and it’s going to take companies like Pepsi reducing and eventually phasing out single-use plastics,” she said in a news release.

Harrison said she saw Greenpeace’s response.

“I draw some distinction between the work we’re doing and the call that they are making to create a world without plastic. That’s a discussion that’s happening across the globe right now. And it’s not one that’s going to be resolved anytime soon,” she said.

“We’re realists and we are very action focused and we look around and see so much opportunity to create environmental gains today by improving the recycling system,” Harrison said. “And so we’re going to do it. And we’re not going to stop until we have a better solution.”

Carey said plastics play an important role in delivering and keeping food safe, and the key is to create a closed-loop economy for whatever packaging material is being used.

As You Sow, another environmental group, took a more tempered approach while crediting PepsiCo for putting up the cash and supporting the Recycling Partnership.

“Though a $100m (€86m) commitment seems like a lot, it is less than what’s needed to substantially move the needle,” said Conrad MacKerron, senior vice president of As You Sow.

He also questioned the ability for public sources to contribute $75m (€65m) million of the $100m (€86m) programme.

“Pepsi should think bigger and use its influence to convince corporate beverage piers to roll up their sleeves and raise the full $100m (€86m) to begin to significantly move the needle,” MacKerron said in a statement.

PepsiCo, Carey indicated, has some lofty goals. They include collecting 7 billion additional beverage containers over the next five years and increase their national recycling rate by 2%. The company collected 70 million containers, both plastic and aluminium, last year.

With container recycling facing challenges in recent years, he said the goal is to get the trend headed back in the right direction. “Let’s see if we can catalyse change. Let’s see if we can get partners to come and join us,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is change the industry. Change consumers behaviour.”

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