An alliance of 25 major U.S. corporations on Tuesday announced a national effort to encourage businesses to buy recycled materials.
The companies--including Safeway Inc., McDonald's Corp., Bank of America, Coca-Cola Co., American Airlines and Du Pont Co.--have pledged to increase their use of recycled materials and to recruit 5,000 other corporations to join the recycling effort within the next two years.
"It's a significant step forward," said Lance King, a recycling expert with Californians Against Waste, an environmental group based in Sacramento.
"Major national and multinational corporations, particularly, exercise tremendous influence in the marketplace," King said. "Their purchases are likely to stimulate new investment in recycling industries."
In recent years, recycling collection efforts--mostly cities' mandatory curbside programs--have exceeded expectations. But broader efforts have been impeded by the lack of markets for the collected goods.
Many of the companies--which in total buy $2.7 billion worth of recycled materials annually--are already considered leaders in corporate recycling. McDonald's, for instance, now uses recycled materials to build new restaurants. Coca-Cola distributes two-liter bottles formed from recycled plastic to 40% of its U.S. market.
A survey of the participating companies' own buying practices found that a large barrier to greater use of recycled materials were technical deficiencies, such as inadequate accounting systems and decentralized purchasing departments, said Jack Groh of the National Recycling Coalition, the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group that brought the companies together.
"How does headquarters know the exact content of materials (that are) purchased locally?" Groh asked.
The new group, which calls itself the Buy Recycled Business Alliance, plans to develop a guide to suppliers of recycled materials, computer programs and other technical aids. The alliance, which was announced at a national recycling conference in Boston and will have a first-year budget of $325,000, said it will organize workshops in 20 cities for other companies interested in recycling.
Some recycling experts welcomed the alliance but pointed out that industry has strongly resisted recent state and local efforts to legally require greater use of recycled materials.
In California, laws require minimum recycled material content for glass containers, newsprint, rigid plastic containers, plastic trash bags and fiberglass building insulation. Supporters say such legislation will be more effective in developing broad markets to bring the cost of recycled material into line with existing sources of new fiber, glass, plastic and metals.
"It's a nice addition, but the real engine of recycling is happening at the state and local level," said Niel Seldman, co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, based in Washington, D.C.
Other companies in the alliance are Anheuser-Busch Inc., Bell Atlantic Corp., Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc., Garden State Paper Co., James River Corp., Johnson Controls Inc., Johnson & Johnson, Laidlaw Waste Systems, Media General Inc., Menasha Corp., Moore Business Forms Inc., Quill Co., Rock-Tenn Co., Rubbermaid Inc., Sears, Roebuck & Co., Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Co., United Parcel Service Inc., Waste Management Inc. and Wisconsin Tissue Mills.