In 1960, Americans generated 2.7 lbs. of garbage per capita per day, exclusive of industrial and mining waste, according to the U.S. EPA's Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. Despite the subsequent start of the environmental movement, the figure rose to 3.7 lbs. by 1990 and 4.5 lbs. by 2000, when total tonnage reached 232 million, almost triple the amount from 40 years earlier.
Industry attempts to address the problem have enjoyed limited success. Eight years ago, DuPont Teijin Films launched a program in which packing materials, film waste, wooden pallets and "pretty much anything we send out" is picked up from customers' plants and brought to sorting depots operated by Greenpak, according to Ronald S. Auberger, manager of DuPont's returnable program. Positive cash flow is generated for DuPont, Greenpak and the customer, but selling the program is an uphill battle, Auberger says. With management ranks being thinned, finding a champion within client organizations can be difficult, he says.
"We get criticized for targeting less than 5 percent of the waste stream, but recycling has to start somewhere," Gitlitz says. Based on figures from industry groups, recycling efforts are losing ground: only 31 percent of soft-drink containers were returned in 2002, down from 46 percent in 1995, and the "wasting rate" of PET resins equaled 2 billion lbs. in 2002, a fivefold increase in 10 years.
Environmental stewardship can be effective, as the Anheuser-Busch Recycling Corp. has demonstrated. The unit of the St. Louis brewery recycles 750 million lbs. of aluminum a year, more than the parent uses to package its beer. In addition, engineering design changes in 2002 shaved 1.3 million lbs. from the aluminum the corporation used for its cans. Other changes trimmed 10.5 million lbs. of paperboard used.
Besides aluminum, A-B recycles almost 4 billion lbs. of plastics, glass, wood and other materials. Those efforts and other environmental programs were cited by the Keep America Beautiful organization in bestowing its Vision for America Award last fall to A-B.