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

  • PACKAGING SYSTEMS INCLUDING RECYCLING
  • Published:
The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment Aims and scope Submit manuscript

Abstract

Purpose

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.

Methods

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).

Conclusions

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.

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Notes

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

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Correspondence to Brandon Kuczenski.

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Responsible editor: Hans-Jürgen Garvens

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Kuczenski, B., Geyer, R. PET bottle reverse logistics—environmental performance of California’s CRV program. Int J Life Cycle Assess 18, 456–471 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11367-012-0495-7

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11367-012-0495-7

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