OLR Research Report

December 8, 2005




By: Paul Frisman, Associate Analyst

You asked a number of questions about recycling. We answer most of them individually below. We are still awaiting some information, which we will provide in a subsequent report.

1. What is the cost per ton to recycle PET plastic at curbside? At drop-off centers? What percentage of these costs is paid by tax dollars?

PET (polyethylene terephthalate) is a plastic resin used in the packaging of soft drinks, water, juice, “sports drinks,” peanut butter, salad dressings, cosmetics and household cleaners.

Recycled PET is used in the manufacture of carpeting, food and beverage bottles, strapping, and non-food containers, such as motor oil and household chemical bottles.

Neither the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), nor regional recycling coordinators are able to provide specific information on the cost of recycling PET bottles in Connecticut.

The most frequently cited national source for such information is “Understanding Beverage Container Recycling,” published in 2002 by Businesses and Environmentalists Allied for Recycling (the “BEAR report”). Cost figures in the BEAR Report are from 1999.

The BEAR Report looked at a number of recycling systems, among them deposit systems, in which consumers redeem bottles to collect a deposit; curbside systems, in which consumers leave a variety of recyclable materials outside their homes for collection; and drop-off centers, in which consumers bring their recyclables to centralized locations.

The BEAR Report did not show the specific cost of collecting PET in a curbside or drop-off system. However, it did find that the gross cost nationally of collecting, cleaning, sorting and compacting PET bottles mixed with other recyclables was $184 per ton.

It found the gross cost of collecting, cleaning, sorting and compacting plastic bottles (not just PET bottles) was $45 per ton when the bottles were collected separately from other recyclable waste.

These costs do not include the costs of turning the recovered material into new products or reclaiming it for reuse, or reflect the prices paid for the material by carpet makers and other end-use manufacturers.

2. What impact have the recent hurricanes had on the manufacture of PET?

The disruption in oil production caused by hurricanes Rita and Katrina caused an increase in the price of petroleum-based plastic resins. According to the November 8, 2005 New Orleans Times-Picayune (article attached), the rising price of oil caused the price of the three most common resins to jump 20% to 30%, from between 55 cents and 64 cents per pound to between 70 cents and 80 cents per pound.

Plastics Technology reported that because of the close correlation between petroleum costs and resin prices, manufacturers of plastic products could expect high materials costs for the rest of 2005 and most of 2006.

3. Who are the primary purchasers of recycled PET?

According to the National Association for PET Container Resources' (NAPCOR) 2004 Report on Post Consumer PET Container Recycling Activity, 54.5% of recycled PET is used in “fiber applications,” such as the production of residential and automotive carpeting. Recycled PET is also used in food and beverage bottles, (14.3% of the total); strapping, (13.2%); and non-food (e.g., motor oil and household chemical) bottles, (7.2%).

The American Plastics Council (APC) has similar statistics, with the difference between its numbers and NAPCOR's apparently due to the fact that APC, unlike NAPCOR, does not count bottles recycled in the U.S. that were produced and used elsewhere. According to APC's 2004 National Post-Consumer Plastics Recycling Report, fiber applications accounted for 52% of domestic recycled PET use; strapping, 13%; food and beverage containers, 12%; and non-food containers, 9%.

According to Jenny Gitlitz, of the Container Recycling Institute (CRI), a national nonprofit organization, most recycled PET in Connecticut is purchased by Mohawk Carpet, UltrePET and Pure Tech. Mohawk uses PET in the manufacture of carpeting. UltrePET and Pure Tech use it to produce new bottles, some of which may be beverage containers.

4. What percentage of beverage containers is made of recycled PET? What impact would a greater availability of a clean reliable PET stream have on increasing this percentage?

According to CRI's Gitlitz, less than 5% of beverage containers are made of recycled PET. However, Jerry Powell, editor of Resource Recycling magazine, puts the estimate higher, at about 8% of soft drink, iced tea, juice and water bottles nationwide. These percentages should increase, as both Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola have announced plans to use 10% recycled content in their PET soft drink and bottled water products. Gitlitz and APC's Pete Dinger believe a greater supply of clean, reliable recycled PET should help increase this percentage.

5. Are both clean and recycled PET used to made new beverage containers? What is the difference in price?

According to APC's Dinger, both varieties are used to make new beverage containers, but manufacturers prefer using the cleaner material, which requires less processing.

PET bottles collected through bottle deposit programs are generally considered cleaner than those collected at curbside because they are less exposed to cross contamination. Michael Schedler of NAPCOR reports a difference, historically, of at least three cents per pound between the deposit bottles and those collected at curbside; UltrePET's Paul Zordan, says the price differential has been between five and 10 cents per pound.

According to, the price for clean flake (i.e., ground PET bottles) on November 21, 2005 ranged between 47 and 56 cents per pound for clear recycled PET and 41 to 45 cents for green recycled PET. The price for recycled PET in pellet form was between 59 and 69 cents per pound for clear recycled PET and 51 to 56 cents per pound for green recycled PET.

6. What percentage of PET beverage containers is currently recycled in the U.S.? In Connecticut?

According to the American Plastics Council, 33.7% of PET soft drink containers and 14.5% of “custom” PET bottles were recycled in 2004. (Custom bottles include all beverage bottles other than those used for soft drinks.) The overall recycling rate for PET bottles in 2004 was 21.6%, up from 19.5% in 2003. This was the first increase in the PET bottle recycling rate in about 10 years. NAPCOR attributed the increase to increased demand, especially in the carpet industry, more pressure from California to use recycled plastic in containers, and a better competitive position with virgin materials. More information on this trend is available in this article from

We could find no PET recycling figures specific to Connecticut. However, CRI's Jenny Gitlitz estimates a Connecticut recycling rate of 70% for carbonated PET beverage bottles.

We estimate that about 29.8% of PET bottles were recycled in Connecticut in 2002 based on statistics from several sources. We arrived at this figure using the following calculation:

DEP reports that state recycling facilities marketed about 4,467 tons (8,934,000 pounds) of PET in 2002. At an average weight of 0.0749 pounds per bottle (according to the BEAR report), this would be the equivalent of 119,279,038 bottles. According to CRI, total PET bottle sales in Connecticut were 580 million in 2002, of which 270 million were redeemable. If we assume a 2002 redemption rate of 66.8% (similar to that of Massachusetts) then roughly 90 million PET bottles would have remained in the waste stream.

Adding these 90 million to the 310 million non-redeemable bottles means there were about 400 million PET bottles in the 2002 waste stream. If about 119.3 million were recycled, this would mean a Connecticut PET bottle recycling rate (not including redeemed bottles) of about 29.8% in 2002.

7. How has the availability of recycled PET changed over the last few years?

According to an April 27, 2005 article in, (attached) the decision by Coke and Pepsi to step up their use of recycled PET will increase demand for recycled PET, aggravating a situation in which demand for that product far outstripped supply. Phil Cavin, national procurement director for carpet maker Mohawk Industries, said “everyone right now is just scrambling to get material, and prices are through the roof…There's plenty of bottles to go around, but they're just not being collected.” Calvin estimated in December, 2005 that demand for recycled PET outstripped supply by about 100 million pounds.

The article attributed the shortage to demand from overseas buyers, and increased demand for strapping materials, as well as the increased demand from Coke and Pepsi. Increases in the price of virgin PET had also created even more demand for recovered PET. On the other hand, higher recycled PET prices were likely to encourage more business to recycle their waste rather than discard it. According to APC's Pete Dinger, recyclers are capable of processing additional material. He said recyclers operated at 67% of capacity in 2004, compared to 59% in 2003.

8. What are the recycling rates for existing municipal recycling programs?

The rates vary by town and program. We have attached the DEP statistics for each town for FY 03.

9. What are the per ton costs, by commodity, to municipalities to recycle? Are the costs increasing, decreasing, or remaining stable?

DEP's Judy Belaval says neither the department nor most towns track such information. According to Lynn Rubinstein, of the Northeast Recycling Council, costs are dynamic and change almost daily. However, the BEAR Report does compare the intermediate processing costs for various commodities. The costs depend on whether the materials were commingled (mixed together and sorted afterwards) or initially sorted by type of material. The costs represent the intermediate processing facilities costs of cleaning, sorting and compacting, but not the cost of recycling or reclaiming the materials for reuse.

Cost per ton for commingled items*:

Aluminum cans: $143

Plastic bottles

PET: $184

HPDE: $188


Clear: $73

Amber: $112

Green: $87.

*Source: “The Cost to Recycle at a Materials Resource Facility,” National Solid Wastes Management Association, October 1992.

Cost per ton for source-separated items**:

Aluminum cans: $45

Plastic (all types): $45

Glass (all colors) $10

**Source: SP Recycling (processor for curbside-sort and drop-off recyclables).

According to the BEAR report, it cost $579 per ton to reclaim PET from a bale to a pellet. If the end product required a solid state resin, such as for products that come in contact with food, the cost would be more than $700 per ton.

10. What are the recycling rates for deposit recycling?

Connecticut does not require the collection of this data. However, DEP assumes Connecticut's bottle redemption rate is similar to that of Massachusetts. According to Nicholas Oliver, bottle bill administrator for the Massachusetts' DEP, that state had a bottle deposit rate of 69.5% in 2004. Aluminum cans accounted for about two-thirds of the returned items by volume; glass containers, 17%; and plastic, 16%.

11. How do these rates compare with other deposit states?

Eleven states have bottle deposit laws. According to May 2005 CRI figures, and assuming Connecticut's redemption rate is similar to that of Massachusetts, the 70% redemption rate would be slightly higher than the overall redemption rate in California (65%); lower than the overall rates in Iowa (93%), Michigan (97.3%), Oregon (84%) and Vermont (90-95%); and about the same as that of New York (70.2%). Redemption rates were not available for Delaware, Hawaii, and Maine.

According to CRI, most bottle bill states have a nickel deposit, with the following exceptions: Michigan (10 cents for all bottles); California (8 cents for bottles larger than 24 oz.; 4 cents for smaller bottles); Maine (15 cents for wine and liquor bottles); Oregon (2 cents for refillable bottles); and Vermont (15 cents for liquor bottles).

12. What percentage of beverage containers in Connecticut is redeemed at chain grocery stores, package stores, convenience stores, and redemption centers?

We were unable to obtain specific figures from the various sectors. Connecticut Food Association president Grace Nome estimates that about 80% to 85% of beverage containers are redeemed at grocery stores. However, Carroll Hughes, representing the Connecticut Package Store Association, estimates that between 15% and 30% of beverage containers are returned to package stores. Representatives of the New England Convenience Store Association and of redemption centers did not respond to our inquiries.

13. What is the capacity of Reverse Vending Machines (RVMs) statewide, and what is the current average utilization of that capacity?

We are still awaiting a response to this question.

14. What are the average costs to redemption entities of providing RVM services to their customers? How do these costs translated into a per-container handling cost?

We are waiting for information on the first question. According to the BEAR Report, the per-container gross cost to retailers using reverse vending machines is about 2.5 cents.

15. What percentage of today's beverage market is noncarbonated bottled water sold in containers smaller than one- gallon?

In 2003, 93% of the total units of water sold in PET and glass nationally were in bottles smaller than one gallon, according to CRI's Gitlitz.

According to Beverage Marketing Corp. managing director Gary Hemphill, bottled water sold in units of 1.5 liters or less (about 1.6 quarts) comprised about 48% of the total commercial water market and 6.7% of the national beverage market, including alcohol, in 2004.

16. How does this compare to five or ten years ago?

Hemphill said that bottled water in bottles of 1.5 liters or less comprised only about 2.3% of the total beverage market, including alcoholic beverages, in 1999.

According to the Beverage Marketing Corp., consumption of bottled water has more than doubled in the past 10 years. U.S. bottled water consumption in 2004 was 23.8 gallons per person, with domestic noncarbonated water representing 94.2% of the total volume.

According to CRI, bottled water sales increased from 15.4 billion units in 2002 to an estimated 25 billion in 2004, a 67% increase. CRI estimates that 425 million water bottles were sold in Connecticut in 2005, about 90% of which were packaged in PET.

17. How does this compare to the number of deposit beverage containers sold in Connecticut?

CRI's Gitlitz estimates that noncarbonated water in sizes up to and including 1.5 liters accounts for between 12% and 15% of the total beverage market in Connecticut.

18. What percentage of the litter stream, by volume, are beverage containers?

According to “What Do Litter Surveys Reveal About Bottle Bills?”, a May 2005 presentation by a Virginia consulting firm, beer and soft drink containers (glass, plastic and aluminum) comprise, on average, about 6.37% of state litter streams. According to the presentation, other beverage containers (juice, wine, liquor and water) account for about 1.34% of state litter streams.

However, a 2004 New Jersey litter survey found that beverage container-related litter (including bottle caps, plastic six-pack rings and paper cartons) comprised about 15.5% of total litter in that state. Beer and soft drink containers made up about 6.4% of that amount, with juice, water, liquor, and wine containers accounting for about 4%. Steven Stein, who oversaw the survey, says the proportion of water bottles among littered beverage containers is increasing.

In his March 7, 2005 testimony before the Environment Committee, Kevin S. Dietly, representing the Connecticut Food Association, said beverage containers comprise about 8.5% of the litter discarded on roadsides, parks and beaches. Dietly, principal of the Massachusetts consulting firm Northbridge Environmental Consultants, arrived at that figure by averaging 37 litter surveys conducted in 20 states between 1978 and 2000. Dietly said recent studies placed the noncarbonated beverage container share of litter at less than 1.4%.

Three recent studies found a high proportion of non-redeemable bottles in the beverage container waste stream.

The 2003 Charles River (Mass.) Cleanup found nearly 82% of the 527 bottles recovered were non-returnable. In other words, the non-redeemable bottles outnumbered the redeemable containers by 4.5 to 1, even though non-redeemable bottles at the time made up less than half the beverage containers sold. The Worcester Earth Day Cleanup conducted the same year collected 276 deposit bottles and 1,152 non-deposit bottles (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), a ratio of 4.2 non-deposit bottles for each deposit bottle collected.

A similar cleanup of the Hudson River in New York in 2002 found that non-returnable beverage containers made up 61% of the beverage container litter stream, despite accounting for only 22% of the beverage market at the time.

19. What percentage of littered beverage containers is redeemed compared to disposed of by towns? What percentage is disposed of by municipalities?

Neither DEP nor the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities tracks this information.

20. What litter control costs do municipalities pay to pick up and dispose of beverage containers?

We were unable to obtain this information for Connecticut. However, according to the New Jersey litter survey mentioned above, it would cost $1.29 to remove each piece of litter under a paid litter pick-up program.

According to this Economic and Environmental Benefits Of A Deposit System For Beverage Containers in the State of Washington, it cost $1,200 per ton to pick up litter in 2002. About one quarter (26.8%) of this litter consisted of aluminum cans and plastic and glass bottles. The report estimated that eliminating 90% of these bottles and cans through a redemption system would save 24.1% of the total cost, or about $1.07 million annually.

22. Assuming the same redemption rate for bottled water as for deposit containers, how much money in unclaimed deposits on water bottles might be realized annually?

The Office of Fiscal Analysis estimates that the annual gross revenue gain from unredeemed deposits for bottled water in Connecticut would be approximately $3,750,000. The estimate is based on an estimated 70% redemption rate and estimated state container data available from CRI.