Skip to main content


Log in

PET bottle reverse logistics—environmental performance of California’s CRV program

  • Published:
The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment Aims and scope Submit manuscript



Disposable beverage bottles made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) stand in sharp contrast to many other disposable plastic packaging systems in the US for their high level of post-consumer recovery for recycling. This is due in part to container deposit programs in several US states, such as the California Redemption Value (CRV) program. We investigate the impacts of PET bottle recycling in the CRV program to evaluate its effectiveness at reducing environmental burdens.


We develop a life cycle model using standard process LCA techniques. We use the US LCI database to describe the energy production infrastructure and the production of primary materials. We describe the inventory and logistical requirements for materials recovery on the basis of state-maintained statistics and interviews with operators and industry representatives. We report inventory indicators describing energy, freight, and waste disposal requirements. We report several impact indicators based on CML and TRACI-2.0 techniques. We apply system expansion to compare post-consumer activities to produce secondary polymer against equivalent primary production.

Results and discussion

While bottle collection is distributed across the state, processing is more centralized and occurs primarily near urban centers. The average distance traveled by a bottle from discard to recovery is 145–175 km. Recycling requires 0.45–0.66 MJ of primary energy/L of beverage, versus 3.96 MJ during the pre-consumer phase. Post-consumer environmental impacts are significantly lower than pre-consumer impacts, with the exception of eutrophication. The results are robust to model sensitivity, with allocation of fuel for bottle collection being the most significant parameter. Curbside collection is slightly more energy efficient than consumer drop-off, and is subject to smaller parametric uncertainty. Recycling has the potential for net environmental benefits in five of seven impact categories, the exceptions being smog (marginal benefits) and eutrophication (increased impacts).


California’s decentralized program for collecting and processing PET bottles has produced a system which generates a large stream of post-consumer material with minimal environmental impact. The selection of a reclamation locale is the most significant factor influencing post-consumer impacts. If secondary PET displaces primary material, several environmental burdens can be reduced.

Recommendations and perspectives

Our results suggest that deposit programs on disposable packaging are an effective policy mechanism to increase material recovery and reduce environmental burdens. Deposit programs for other packaging systems should be considered.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. Hawaii’s program is modeled after California’s and has similar characteristics.


  • Anonymous (2006) Beverage Market Index 2006. BeverageWorld, May 2006

  • Argonne National Laboratory (2010) Argonne GREET Model. Retrieved May 3, 2011, from

  • Ashenmiller B (2009) Cash recycling, waste disposal costs, and the incomes of the working poor: evidence from California. Land Econ 85(3):539–551

    Google Scholar 

  • Association of Postconsumer Plastics Recyclers (2011) Post-consumer PET Bottle Model Bale Specification. Retrieved from

  • Bare JC (2011) TRACI 2.0: the tool for the reduction and assessment of chemical and other environmental impacts 2.0. Clean Technol Environ Policy 13(5):687–696

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Beigl P, Salhofer S (2004) Comparison of ecological effects and costs of communal waste management systems. Resour Conserv Recycl 41(2):83–102

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Berck P, Goldman G (2003) California Beverage Container Recycling and Litter Reduction Study (No. 5000–009). California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle). Retrieved from

  • Beverage Digest (2008) Fact book 2008—statistical yearbook of non-alcoholic beverages. Beverage Digest, Bedford Hills

    Google Scholar 

  • Boustead I (2005) PET bottles. Eco-profiles of the European plastics industry. Association of Plastics Manufacturers, Europe, Brussels

    Google Scholar 

  • Brown MR (2010) Biannual Report of Beverage Container Sales, Returns, Redemption, and Recycling Rates. California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle). Retrieved from

  • California Air Resources Board (2006) EMFAC2007 Release. Retrieved May 3, 2011, from

  • California Air Resources Board (2007a) Facts about the California Air Resources Board’s Waste Collection Vehicle Regulation. Retrieved from

  • California Air Resources Board (2007b) Facts about California’s accomplishments in reducing diesel particulate matter emissions. Retrieved from

  • California Department of Finance (2010) California county population estimates and components of change by year. Retrieved May 3, 2011, from

  • California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) (2011a). Beverage container recycling programs defined. Retrieved May 3, 2011, from

  • CalRecycle (2009) Market analysis for recycled beverage container materials: 2009 update. California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle), Sacramento

    Google Scholar 

  • CalRecycle (2011b) Frequently asked questions. Retrieved December 20, 2011, from

  • Chester M, Martin E, Sathaye N (2008) Energy, greenhouse gas, and cost reductions for municipal recycling systems. Environ Sci Technol 42(6):2142–2149

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Chilton T, Burnley S, Nesaratnam S (2010) A life cycle assessment of the closed-loop recycling and thermal recovery of post-consumer PET. Resour Conserv Recycl 54(12):1241–1249

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Container Recycling Institute (2008) Recycling and wasting trends: conclusions from the 2008 Beverage Market Data Analysis. Container Recycling Institute. Retrieved from

  • Ekvall T, Tillman A-M (1997) Open-loop recycling: criteria for allocation procedures. Int J Life Cycle Assess 2(3):155–162

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ekvall T, Weidema BP (2004) System boundaries and input data in consequential life cycle inventory analysis. Int J Life Cycle Assess 9(3):161–171

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Franklin Associates (2009) Life Cycle assessment of drinking water systems: bottle water, tap water, and home/office delivery water (No. 09-LQ-104). Oregon Department of Environmental Quality

  • Franklin Associates (2010) Life cycle inventory of 100% Postconsumer HDPE and PET recycled resin from postconsumer containers and packaging. Prairie Village

  • Franklin Associates (2007) Cradle-to-gate life cycle inventory of nine plastic resins and two polyurethane precursors. American Chemistry Council, Prairie Village

    Google Scholar 

  • Frischknecht R, Jungbluth N, Althaus H-J, Doka G, Dones R et al (2007) Overview and methodology. Ecoinvent data v2.0, No. 1. Swiss Center for Life Cycle Inventories, Dübendorf

    Google Scholar 

  • Gleick PH, Cooley HS (2009) Energy implications of bottled water. Environ Res Lett 4(1):014009

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Guinée JB, Gorrée M, Heijungs R, Huppes G, Kleijn R et al (2002) Handbook on life cycle assessment. Operational guide to the ISO standards. Kluwer, Dordrecht

    Google Scholar 

  • Hischier R (2007) Life cycle inventories of packaging and graphical papers. Ecoinvent-report No. 11. Part II—plastics (No. 11). Swiss Center for Life Cycle Inventories, Dübendorf, pp 171–186

    Google Scholar 

  • Kuczenski B, Geyer R (2010) Material flow analysis of polyethylene terephthalate in the US, 1996–2007. Resour Conserv Recycl 54(12):1161–1169

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Madival S, Auras R, Singh SP, Narayan R (2009) Assessment of the environmental profile of PLA, PET and PS clamshell containers using LCA methodology. J Clean Prod 17(13):1183–1194

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • National Association for PET Container Resources (2010) 2009 Report on Post Consumer PET Container Recycling Activity (p. 11). National Association for PET Container Resources. Retrieved from

  • Shen L, Worrell E, Patel MK (2010) Open-loop recycling: a LCA case study of PET bottle-to-fibre recycling. Resour Conserv Recycl 55(1):34–52

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • US Environmental Protection Agency (2009) eGrid 2007 Version 1.1. US Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved from

  • US Environmental Protection Agency (2010) Municipal solid waste in the United States: 2009 Facts and Figures (No. EPA530-R-10-012). United States Environmental Protection Agency, Washington

  • US LCI (2011) NREL: U.S. Life Cycle Inventory Database Home Page. Retrieved May 3, 2011, from

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Brandon Kuczenski.

Additional information

Responsible editor: Hans-Jürgen Garvens

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.


(DOC 115 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Kuczenski, B., Geyer, R. PET bottle reverse logistics—environmental performance of California’s CRV program. Int J Life Cycle Assess 18, 456–471 (2013).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: