Why We Still Need to Recycle Bottles and Cans

Since 1986 California has kept 400 billion plastic, glass, aluminum, and bi-metal containers out of our landfills and off our streets by recycling them. Despite our recent loss in the number of conveniently located recycling centers because of dips in the global aluminum scrap market, California still recycled around 18.5 billion beverage containers in 2019.

By continuing our commitment to recycling, we can keep these materials from adding to pollution and our already growing landfills.

In 1986, California passed the Beverage Container Recycling and Litter Reduction Act with these goals:

  • To reduce litter and landfilled trash
  • To use recyclable material for manufacturing, rather than mining the planet for new materials. 

plastic bottles and cans flowing into a river

California gave consumers a financial reason to recycle in 1986 to reduce litter and save materials discarded after one use.

Do We Want a State Littered with Bottles?

We drink most beverages away from home, so having a returnable deposit on the containers can motivate the purchasers to return used bottles and cans for their nickels or dimes. Not all consumers will go to the trouble to recycle, but the redemption program incentivizes others who find a bottle to return it for its monetary value.

In 2018, Californians bought 24.5 billion redemption eligible bottles and cans and recycled about 18.5 billion of those.

That’s 18.5 billion bottles and cans not dumped in our streets, waterways, and ocean to join the plastic from other sources polluting our planet, filling our seas, and killing our marine life. An often-cited study from the World Economic Forum estimates that by the year 2050, the world’s oceans will have more plastic than fish.   

closeup picture of plastic bottles baled into cubes

Plastic bottles: Designed to use for a few minutes. Built to last forever.

Plastic Breaks Into Toxic Microplastic 

Plastic containers might be designed to use for a few minutes, but they are built to last forever. Even if discarded in streets or landfills breaks down into smaller pieces, but it can only become toxic microplastics that poison our bodies and environment. It will never biodegrade into harmless organic matter like most glass does.  

Do We Want Microplastics In Our Bodies?

Unknowingly, we each ingest an average of 50,000 pieces of these microplastics each year in liquids, fish, and other foods. We breathe in about the same amount. We don’t yet know the effect these microplastics have, but they may cause immune reactions or have other health impacts

 

recycling bottles

Recycling Stretches Our Limited Resources

Discarding bottles and cans instead of recycling them means we must constantly use new materials to manufacture the 24 billion new beverage containers we buy every year.  

Recycling also brings: 

The best thing you can do for California’s environment right now is to continue recycling. If you discover that a retailer obligated to redeem and listed on our database will not redeem your bottles and cans, please report them to CalRecycle’s help line: (800) RECYCLE.

We follow up on every complaint. Let’s work together to keep recycling for our environment and our future. 

  

— Heather Jones
Posted on Jan 27, 2020

Summary: Since 1986 California has kept 400 billion plastic, glass, aluminum, and bi-metal containers out of our landfills and off our streets by recycling them. Despite our recent loss in the number of conveniently located recycling centers because of dips in the global aluminum scrap market, California still recycled around 18.5 billion beverage containers in 2019. By continuing our commitment to recycling, we can keep these materials from adding to pollution and our already growing landfills.