Not so long ago I was picking up roadside trash, appalled at the number of bottles and cans I found along a short stretch of suburban asphalt. 255 bottle and cans to be exact. Among them, one stood out to me. It was a 10 oz. colorless glass Coke bottle, grooved and curvy, weighty and remarkably, undamaged. I recycled all the others, but I pulled that classic out, brought it home and cleaned it up. I deciphered the numbers on the bottom, and with a little research figured out that it was probably produced in Chattanooga in the 1970s, and has no real collectible value.
In raised letters on the neck, above the trademarked Coke and Coca-Cola logos, are these words, all caps: NO DEPOSIT NO REFILL. (Underscore that. The bottom of the bottle reads: NOT TO BE REFILLED.) How ironic, I thought, that’s classic, too! Although it’s nothing to be proud of, NO DEPOSIT NO REFILL has been Coke’s motto in the U.S. almost since the invention of the “one-way” bottle.
It was Coke that introduced NO DEPOSIT NO REFILL glass bottles to the market in 1964. Quickly thereafter other beverage makers followed suit. As a society, we didn’t pause (while refreshing) to consider whether the change from reusable to disposable containers was smart, and the number of “one-way” containers in our waste stream exploded.
Today just take a gander at the 2013 Container Recycling Institute’s WasteCount on their homepage—a running tally of drink containers landfilled, incinerated and littered into the environment in the U.S. so far this year.
- 35 billion plastic bottles are thrown “away” in the U.S. each year*
- 40 billion aluminum cans, the most valuable beverage container material, are still dumped annually into landfills in the U.S.**
- Historically, between 6 and 7 million tons of glass bottles are wasted in the U.S. every year.***
And that’s just the material waste. Let’s also consider the enormous amount of energy used and the amount of pollution created in the making and disposing of all those containers, which will now need to be replaced with new ones.
Coke has fought efforts by state governments to institute container deposits in the U.S., and recently sued the Northern Territory of Australia, even though deposit programs are proven to substantially increase container recycling rates and decrease littering. Coke and other beverage makers are mightily concerned that deposit systems hurt their profits and therefore actively oppose their implementation. So in all but 10 U.S. states, there is NO DEPOSIT for beverage containers.
Refillable bottles are another option that would significantly reduce the amount of container trash going to landfill, incinerator, or oceans, but Coke gave up its last refilling operation in the U.S. in 2012. NO REFILL now applies nationwide for all Coke beverages and the vast majority of other soda, water, juice, sports drink and beer products.
In 1964, NO DEPOSIT NO REFILL was novel, and in hindsight, incredibly foolish. What were we thinking? Today, aiding and abetting rising volumes of container waste, through NO DEPOSIT NO REFILL policies, rather than doing everything possible to reduce waste and reuse resources, is not just foolish, it’s deplorable. There isn’t anyplace in the world that can afford the amount of waste such a motto engenders.
*Edward Humes, “Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash”, **As You Sow, “Unfinished Business: The Case for Extended Producer Responsibility for Post-Consumer Packaging,” *** CRI, “Wasting and Recycling Trends: Conclusions from CRI’s 2008 Beverage Market Data Analysis.”