Bill Sheehan (zerowaste@grrn.org)
Sun, 15 Aug 1999 07:33:40 -0400


Dear Friend of Recycling:

I am writing to respond to the letter you
received from The Coca-Cola Company concerning
issues raised by the GrassRoots Recycling
Network's recent New York Times Op Ed page
ads. We received an identical letter when we
wrote Coke to ask them to live up to their
promise to use soft drink bottles made from
recycled plastic.

Coke's spokesperson claimed: "Soft drink
containers ... are America's most recycled
package. In 1997, 58.7% of all soft drink
containers were recycled." Coke is trying to
switch the subject, from plastic soft drink
containers to all soft drink containers, and
from the recycled content of bottles to
recycling rates of empty containers.

Recycling rates for plastic soda bottles have
fallen dramatically from a peak of 50 percent
in 1994 to 35.6 percent in 1998, according to
industry data. In other words, 2 of every 3
plastic Coke bottles are wasted, going to
dumps or becoming litter. And those that are
recycled are not recycled into Coke bottles,
but into low value products like fiber and

Recycling rates for plastic soda bottles,
which is what we're concerned about, have
fallen dramatically from a peak of 50 percent
in 1994 to 35.6 percent in 1998, according to
industry data. In other words, 2 of every 3
plastic Coke bottles are now wasted, either
going to dumps or becoming litter. And the
bottles that are recycled are going into
carpet and pallet strapping, for which
recyclers get paid very little.

Coke's attempt to claim credit for high
overall beverage container recycling rates is
ludicrous in light of Coke's vigorous
opposition to container deposits -- the very
system that is responsible for the high
recycling rates of beverage containers. The
overall beverage container recycling rate in
the ten 'bottle bill' states where a deposit
is required on every container is 85 percent,
compared with 35 percent in non-bottle bill
states, according to the Container Recycling
Institute. Over the years, Coke has spent
tens of millions of dollars in state
legislatures across the country to defeat or
repeal bottle bills. Coke opposes bottle
bills because they make producers like Coke
share responsibility for recycling used

Coke also claims that "each year we spend over
$2 billion on recycled content materials and
supplies in the U.S. alone." Coke's figure
for spending for recycled content materials is
primarily for aluminum cans, which are still
the dominant soft drink container. But Coke
is switching away from recycled content glass
and aluminum to plastic with no recycled
content. Aluminum cans have 70% recycled
content. Coke has all but abandoned glass,
which has 25% recycled content.

Coke also argues in their response that they
didn't break a promise to the public to use
plastic with recycled content, rather the
limited test they conducted in 1991 was
"unsustainable" - in other words, it cost too

Coke's promise is reflected in the public
record. In fact, Coke's current chairman and
CEO, Douglas Ivester, was the point person in
their early public relations campaign. Mr.
Ivester's public statements, taken together,
create a clear public impression that Coke
promised to use recycled plastic soda bottles
to protect the environment. Consumers and
public officials concerned about plastic waste
took it as a promise. In fact, many people
today mistakenly believe that the recycling
symbol on the bottom of plastic Coke bottles
means the bottle is made with recycled

Coca-Cola claims that "because of the
additional cleaning and processing necessary
to make recovered plastics safe for food use,
it costs significantly more to recycle
recovered PET into bottles than it does to
make as many as 50 new products such as fiber,
carpet and car parts."

In reality, the extra cost of using recycled
plastic in three layer plastic bottles
(currently used by Gatorade and Verifine
juices) is little or nothing, but Coke
apparently does not want to invest in new
machines for this technology. Another process
available to them is blending recycled
plastic soda bottles with virgin resin
resulting in an additional cost of only one-
or two-tenths of one cent per bottle,
according to one industry source.

At the same time, profit per bottle in cases
of 20-ounce pet soft drink bottles is more
than 20 cents per bottle, according to
industry sources. Ironically, Coke presently
uses 25% recycled content in its bottles in
Australia, Sweden and Switzerland.

The fact is that Coke does not use recycled
plastic in the 10 billion bottles it sells
every day in the U.S., despite promising to do
so in 1990. And Coke's failure to honor its
pledge has stunted the market for recycled
plastic, burdening our cities with more waste
and pollution.

Coke's failure to recycle is not sustainable
for our environment and is certainly not
sustainable for our communities, which
currently subsidize the recycling of these
plastics. With plastic waste increasing ten
times faster than the recycling of plastic
bottles, Coke needs to take responsibility for
the waste it is producing.

I hope that this letter clears up some of the
misconceptions Coca-Cola was attempting to
create in response to your concerns. We
appreciate your taking the time to contact
Coca-Cola and your continued interest in
holding corporations accountable for
conserving resources.