Several major U.S. beverage brands would support new laws making producers financially responsible for collection and recycling of post-consumer beverage packaging, according to a new report assessing corporate progress on recycling released by shareholder advocacy group As You Sow.

The new report, “Waste & Opportunity: U.S. Beverage Container Recycling Scorecard and Report”, is As You Sow’s third review of the beverage industry since 2006.  Nestlé Waters North America received the highest ranking, followed closely by PepsiCo, The Coca-Cola Company, and Red Bull.  All four received a letter grade of B-.  The report discusses new efforts by several companies to promote Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) mandates to reverse lagging U.S. bottle and can recycling rates.

“The major development since our last survey has been the willingness of leading beverage companies to consider new legislative mandates requiring them to take responsibility for their post-consumer packaging,” said Conrad MacKerron, Senior Director of As You Sow’s Corporate Social Responsibility Program. “Many beverage and consumer packaged goods companies pay fees in other countries to finance recovery of their packaging.  It’s significant that companies are finally acknowledging the need to take responsibility in the U.S. as well.”

Of the 224 billion beverage containers sold annually in the U.S. only 29% by weight are recycled; the rest are landfilled or incinerated, resulting in a huge waste of natural resources. In Europe and Canada, where EPR laws are in place, far higher levels of containers are recovered.

“This report reflects the importance As You Sow is placing on an improved recycling model in the U.S.,” says Michael Washburn, director of sustainability for Nestlé Waters North America.  “We have learned a lot in the process and appreciate the recognition of our leadership in this space.  We hope this dialogue spurs even greater commitment by our industry to recycling.”  

The report is based on original research and scores companies on key performance areas in packaging. Grades were based on information submitted by companies who responded to the survey.  Those who did not respond were scored based on publicly available information.

“Several leading beverage companies continue to make steady incremental progress on source reduction but have not demonstrated strong commitments to using recycled content – a significant driver in reducing the environmental impact of packaging,” says Amy Galland, Ph.D., As You Sow’s Research Director and author of the study.

Only PepsiCo maintains a consistent level of 10% recycled PET in all product lines sold in the U.S. since 2005.  Nestlé Waters received the highest score on container recovery for having better recovery goals and stated tactical strategies for attaining them than its peers and it, along with PepsiCo and Red Bull, has stated industry-wide recovery goals.

Brewing companies were notably absent from the survey participants; Anheuser Busch refused to participate, suggesting its transparency policies are getting worse. The company received the second highest score in the 2008 edition of this report.