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Re-Source Attempts Recycling 2.0. But Will it Work?

Mary Catherine O'Connor | Tuesday May 26th, 2009 | 2 Comments

If you’ve ever been to a trade show in Vegas, you probably have seen a “booth babe.” This cringe-inducing term is meant to describe the attractive female representatives that many companies hire to hawk their products at trade shows. Well, I saw a couple booth babes, so to speak, at a green business conference last week. I did a double-take.
It was all in good fun. The women were dressed in mini-dresses made of superfluous packaging materials and they were successful in their efforts to attract people to a booth about a new project launched by the green-minded website Greenopolis (a subsidiary of Waste Management) in partnership with Whole Foods. The pilot project is called Re-Source and it’s designed to improve recycling rates of PET plastic bottles by offering incentives to consumers.
Here’s the idea: Re-Source creates PET beverage containers made with 25 percent recycled PET. These bottles are used for sales of Re-Source-branded bottled water and sold at Whole Foods. Consumers then bring the empty bottles back to Whole Foods and deposit them in a collection box provided by GreenOps. The consumer earns store credit for each empty bottle returned (a bar code scanner built into the collection box is used to count the returns). The more Re-Source bottles the Re-Source people can collect, the higher percentage of recycled content they can use in making new bottles.


By keeping the system closed-loop, Re-Source can better control the cycle. And they point to low PET recycling rates through municipal collection systems as a major motivator for this effort. According to a report from the National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR), less than 25 percent of the PET bottles sold in the US were recycled in 2007.
Re-source is an interesting idea and it’s good to see a group looking for creative ways to boost PET recycling rates. But by selling bottled water? There’s something not quite right about that, right? If you have not heard compelling arguments against bottled water, here is an index of ones we’ve made here at 3P. In fact, if you search for articles about bottled water on GreenOps, you’ll find this survey that shows that 45 percent of its readers don’t even buy bottled water.
So would they buy it if they knew the bottle it came in was going to be recycled and that they would reap a small monetary reward for returning it? I guess that’s what the pilot program is aiming to discover. Still, I’d rather buy juice or soy sauce or ketchup or any number of other products in PET and then return that empty bottle. I prefer my water from the tap. But maybe that’s just me?
Regardless, the GreenOps recycling system does also offer aluminum and glass collection, and it allows consumers to track (through the GreenOps site, which follows them through a membership link to the recycling stations) how much they’ve recycled over time, which is an interesting feature that will likely help them get a better understanding of their consumption habits.
What do you think about this approach to recycling?


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  • Nick Aster

    Great analysis.
    Furthermore, do they refill the bottles they collect, or do they grind them up and make new bottles. The energy expended is likely absurd. My problem with this is that bottled water remains a complete sham and this offering really just perpetuates the sham.
    If you really need to have water with you all the time (which you don’t) then buy a reusable bottle and fill it up at the tap. If you’re paranoid, find a filtered tap. Sorry to bah humbug this one, but in addition to the above, I agree with you that the potential market for this is limited anyway. Many of the people who care about this problem wouldn’t but the bottles to begin with.

  • Dave Shires

    Numbers are actually even lower, I’d think. According to this page, 71% of Greenopolis readers use 1 or less bottle a week