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24. Coca-Cola Fails to Meet Recycling Pledge

Source: EARTH ISLAND JOURNAL, Title: “Coca-Cola: Recycling Outlaw,” Date: Winter 1998, Author: Marti Matsch

SSU Censored Researchers: Jason Bothwell and Aimee Polacci
SSU Faculty Evaluator: Mary Gomes

In the next 24 hours U.S. consumers will use 50 million #1 polethyene therephthalate (PET) plastic soda bottles. As quickly as we throw them away, the plastic bottle industry extracts more nonrenewable resources from the earth to make 50 million new soda bottles for us to toss away again. Some soda bottles will be recycled and converted into carpeting; bleaches, or jacket-fill—but not into new bottles.

In 1990 Coca-Cola made a promise to use its recycled plastic bottles in new production as it has successfully done in Europe and numerous other countries. Eight years later they have yet to follow through with that promise. This failure to act has kept the price of recycled PET bottles low in the marketplace and discouraged expanded PET recycling programs nationwide.

One organization that has tried to change the way the industry is doing things is the Grass Roots Recycling Network (GRRN). GRRN wrote to Coca-Cola in 1997, asking that it live up to its promises. GRRN asked Coca-Cola, as the leader in the soda industry, to begin immediately noting on their labels the percentage of recycled materials being used, begin using refillable bottles, and establish a voluntary deposit on Coca-Cola containers. Coca-Cola refused to even respond to the letter and has made no comment to date on the request.

GRRN is keeping the pressure on. They have initiated a petition asking Coca-Cola to “Do The Real Thing” and support recycling. When GRRN posted information on the Internet, 25 independent voluntary actions against Coke were staged across the country. Boycotts are being planned on university and college campuses in many different states.

Fourteen percent of airborne toxic emissions come from plastics production. The average plastics plant can discharge as much as 500 gallons of contaminated wastewater per minute. If Coca-Cola were to immediately move into even a 25 percent recycled content for their bottles, says Matsch, significant progress could be made on recycling in the United States. The price for PET bulk recycled product would increase and financial incentives would make recycling far more attractive to cities and recyclers throughout the United States.

The cost of using recycled bottles is actually quite low. Soda companies are making an average of 21 cents on each new bottle. The cost of using recycled bottles would only cost .01 cent more per bottle. So Coca-Cola which now makes an average 21 cents per bottle profit would still make 20.9 cents on each bottle with a full recycling program in place. Coca-Cola used to use returnable glass bottles but they now produce all their store-shelf products in plastic. There is no apparent reason why Cola-Cola can not use recycled bottles. Eight years is long enough for Coca-Cola to “do the real thing.”

UPDATE BY AUTHOR MARTI MATSCH: “More than a year after the campaign against Coca-Cola was launched, Coca-Cola still has not answered consumer demands to use recycled plastic bottles. They are shifting their packaging from recycled aluminum and glass to non-recycled plastic. Every second, 200 plastic bottles made of virgin, non-renewable resources are land-filled, while hazardous emissions poison our environment. Meanwhile, their increased demand for virgin plastic drove prices down which added $150 million to their bottom line in one year.

“The Grass Roots Recycling Network (GRRN) has responded with a new, ‘Take it Back!’ campaign. Consumers are encouraged to mail empty plastic Coke bottles to the company’s CEO, demanding the company take responsibility for its packaging and use recycled plastic. “Interest has sparked nationwide. Dozens of protest events have been held, and 81 organizations in 26 states have endorsed the campaign. The issue has not, however, received extensive coverage in the mainstream press. Small town newspapers, alternative publications, and the Internet have been the primary source of information.’


1. Mail rinsed, flattened plastic Coke bottles (with the cap) back to Coca-Cola addressed to Chairman and CEO M. Douglas Investor, One Coca-Cola Plaza, Atlanta, GA 30313. Put a mailing label on the bottle with a 55 cent stamp. No envelope or package is needed.
2. Call Coke at (800) 571-2653 and tell them you won’t buy Coke until they use recycled plastic.
3. Contact GRRN for more info or to organize a protest in your community. Tel: (706) 613-7121; e-mail:zerowaste@grrn.org

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