PespiCo Can't Stay Off the Bottle. Which Explains Its Give to the Nature Conservancy

Recycling at home has become much more common, and that's a good thing. But recycling outside the home is much less common, for a bunch of reasons. This problem has long been on PepsiCo's radar, and recently, it joined forces with the Nature Conservancy to increase recycling in public spaces, with substantial grant money underwriting the effort. 

First, some backstory: Like pretty much every beverage maker, PepsiCo has been under fire for years for its use of plastic bottles. It's now taken various steps to reduce its use of plastic, including R&D on plant-based bottles, but the challenge is enormous and the criticism endures. 

Meanwhile, as we've written before, PepsiCo can be pretty heavy handed in the way that it uses corporate philanthropy to improve its image. So it's no surprise that the company would target philanthropic dollars on the goal of improving recycling practices. 

In order to get a handle on the problem, Pepsi conducted a national survey and discovered that 81 percent of Americans would recycle their beverage containers when they were away from home if the proper bins were available at retail locations. Without the appropriate recycling containers, those plastic and glass bottles are often thrown away in a regular garbage container.

Think of a family of four on a road trip that stops to fill up at the gas station. After several hours in the car, a clean-up is typically necessary, which is a major way recyclables find their way into garbage cans at gas stations, fast food joints and the like. Especially since, according to the same Pepsi survey, proper recycling bins are available only around 12 percent of the time at away from home locations.

Al Carey, CEO of PepsiCo Americas Beverages summed up the problem this way: 

Most consumers want to recycle when they're away from home – there just aren't enough convenient places to do it. This is a huge opportunity that has been largely unaddressed until now. The easier we can make it to recycle, the more likely people are to recycle; and by giving consumers the added incentive of helping protect our watersheds, we can make an impact

Pepsi started its away-from-home recycling plan a while ago when it collaborated with Walmart to establish the Closed Loop Fund. The fund provides money to cities and organizations to help give more people access to recycling and hopes to invest $100 million in various recycling infrastructure projects around the country. The overall goal of the program is to increase the beverage container recycling rate in the U.S. to 50 percent by the year 2018.

Never mind that the company, along with other beverage makers, has spent a fortune fighting bottle bills over the years, which are among the most effective ways to increase the recycling of containers. 

Pepsi’s latest partnership with the Nature Conservancy sort of spins off the idea of the Closed Loop Fund, but has a focus of not only increasing the beverage container recycling rate, but protecting the water supply in five key areas around the country. These areas include the Colorado River, Front Range Forests (Denver), Verde River (Arizona), Kings River (Arkansas) and Cape Fear River (North Carolina).

The new program, Recycle for Nature, is based on a point system. It works like this: For every point the U.S. gains toward the goal of a 50 percent container recycling rate, PepsiCo will make an additional donation to the Nature Conservancy.

The program is set to go on for five years, with Pepsi’s goal of donating up to $1 million each year to the Nature Conservancy. The project's water conservation goal is ultimately to save and restore one billion gallons of water over the five-year period.

The Recycle for Nature Program has already run a pilot program in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This new partnership is kicking off via an expansion of the program to other states aiming for a ten-fold increase in recycling bins across the United States.