[GRRN] December 1998 Opinion-Editorial "Why, Coke not Pepsi"!

Sun, 20 Dec 1998 17:15:20 EST

Recycle Scene

Talking Trash
Richard Anthony

Why, Coke not Pepsi?

I grew up in Los Angeles, California. I spent my most of my summers working
at my Dad's 76 Gas Station on the corner of Florence and Crenshaw Blvd. One
of my jobs was to make sure all the Coke bottles from the Coke machine got
back onto the rack. If the customer wanted to take the Coke with them, I was
to get the deposit. I had a key to the Coke machine. There was a place in
the machine, by the cooling units, which would almost freeze two Cokes at a
time. On hot August dog days in LA, we would take a break and sit on the
curb with our ice cold Cokes and listen to the Dodger game on the radio.

William Rathki, the garbologist from Arizona has dug up landfills all over the
country for various clients. He speaks at recycling conferences. I listened
to him tell an audience at a California Resource Recovery Association
Conference that he had evidence that "people who throw out Coke containers
read Democratic newspapers, people who threw out Pepsi containers read
Republican newspapers, and people who drink Dr. Pepper don't read newspapers."
Critics who have heard this say the data is skewed, as some of the landfills
sampled were in the South and that in some areas of the South you cannot get a
Pepsi if you wanted one.

Coca-Cola has always been a player in building the recycling infrastructure in
California. Product is always available for functions regarding recycling and
litter cleanup. In the early nineties, during the great California recycling
rush to meet the 25% diversion mandate, Coke was an advertiser for the 1994
USA World Cup Soccer matches, a TV viewing audience of an estimated 2 billion
people. I wrote a letter to Coke suggesting that Coke do a commercial showing
a soccer team collecting PET Coke bottles for recycling and using the money to
buy uniforms. The last scene is a shot on goal, the ball turning into a PET
bottle of Coke and the coach pouring drinks for all. "Coke recycles for the

I never heard from Coke. However, at the National Recycling Congress that
year, E. Gifford Stack of the National Soft Drink Association told me that,
Coca-Cola would never use recycling to sell product. I was surprised when
Bill Sheehan reported recently on Greenyes that he had seen a sign in Memphis
with the slogan "Coke recycles."

I have a product loyalty to Coke. I have great memories of the ice cold glass
refillable Coke bottle. I read Democratic newspapers. When I was a Recycling
Coordinator, I used this product in aluminum cans, to reward volunteers at
public beautification and recycling events.

I even thought at one time that with the recyclable PET container, Coke had
done everything right. We even used the 2-liter bottle to make miniature
landfills for Science Projects. Where does product loyalty end and consumer
responsibility begin?

Coke told the recycling industry that the PET bottle was the container of the
future. They announced that Coke would use recycled PET for future containers.
Instead, they made more money by realizing a windfall as virgin PET prices
dropped below recycled PET prices, and Coke bought virgin PET. Meanwhile the
investment made by the recycling industry to create the infrastructure needed
to provide the PET supply that Coke was going to need, is now underutilized
and bit by bit over the last decade, shut down and dismantled.

California has a container deposit system, so the redeemed deposit supports
collection of PET. Recyclers in California have a certain comfort level
provided by deposit legislation as it relates to the #1 PET plastic container.
We are not anywhere near as tolerant of other plastic containers. The tough
but light and airtight qualities that make the PET container great for
distributors and retailers, are problems for the recycler. Several plastic
recycling plants have been shut down in California over the last few years.

Recyclers in other states that don't have deposit laws are dying a slow death
as this plastic takes over packaging products that used be packaged in
aluminum and glass. In some areas, recycled PET has almost no market value.
Coke however is oblivious to the impact they have had on the recycling
industry. They appear not to care.

They may not understand. The same executive, Ivester, who promised to use
recycled PET, is now the Chairman of the Board. McDonald's was slow to move
in regard to the Styrofoam clam shell hamburger container until school
children with picket signs surrounded franchises in several cities, protesting
the environmental impact of over packaging. Farm Workers issues were
addressed, when people all over the world refused to buy head lettuce.
Somehow, Coca-Cola must be made to understand that product loyalty has its

Where I live the only large size bulk Cola you can buy is packaged in PET.
What ever happened to the quart glass bottle, or the 16-ounce refillable glass
container. Although we like our Cola, we want to buy it at the lowest price
and the aluminum can is not always the cheapest option.

Yet, it does not seem that after years of talking about it to the packaging
industry that they are willing to do anything about it. Our grocer wants to
minimize breakage and not have to handle refillables. If we keep buying the
package our grocer orders we get our Cola the way the Supermarket folks want
to give it to us.

Coke makes 21 cents profit for each of the 50 million PET containers that are
sold. A PET container with recycled content might cost one-tenth of a cent
more, reducing the profit to 20.9 cents. It seems to me, the right thing to
do is help sustain the recycling industry and take a little less profit.

So why, Coke not Pepsi? Both Coke and Pepsi promised to use recycled PET but
Coke is number one, and they control the largest share of the market. We
persuade Coke to support recycling by buying recycled; the rest of the food
industry will take notice.

I like Coke. We presently drink Diet Coke in two liter bottles. However, my
product loyalty is not to the plastic container.

So, mail back your containers to Coke for now and ask them to keep their
promise. The San Luis Obispo Integrated Waste Management Authority recommends
mailing the containers to legislators. I have a personal problem giving my
nickel deposit to Coke so I send non deposit Coca-Cola products packaged in
PET back to Coke.

I think we ought to consider advocating people not buying Coke in plastic
containers that are not made with some recycled material content. Coke can
force the PET manufacturers to produce the container it wants. If Coke makes
a movement to respond, the industry will follow.

As recyclers and consumers activists, we need to make sure the products we
like create zero waste. Conservation of resources and energy through source
reduction, use of recycled material feed-stocks and products designed for
recyclability should be planned into the manufacturing and use of all
products. When recyclers make our values known by what we buy, we help
sustain life on the planet Earth. Coke will recycle in the future.

Richard Anthony has been involved in Resource Conservation and Recovery since
1970, and is the Principal Manager for Richard Anthony Associates of San
Diego, CA RicAnthony @aol.com.