[GRRN] GRRN in Wall Street Journal

Bill Sheehan (zerowaste@grrn.org)
Wed, 15 Sep 1999 00:44:01 -0400

September 13, 1999

Coca-Cola's Latest Problem Is Return of Recycling Issue

By BETSY MCKAY Staff Reporter of THE WALL

Coca-Cola has had its share of bad publicity lately, from
a contaminated-drinks scare in Europe to cries of foul
play from antitrust regulators around the world. Now a
recycling-activist group has been added to the list.

The Grass Roots Recycling Network, an organization
uniting recycling activists around the country, went
public last month with a campaign to persuade Coke to
live up to a 1990 promise to use recycled material in the
billions of plastic bottles it uses every year.

The network insists its ads, which have been prominently
placed in The Wall Street Journal's print edition and the
New York Times, weren't timed to take advantage of
Coke's reams of other bad news. "This has nothing to do
with Belgium," says Bill Sheehan, the organization's
network coordinator in Athens, Ga., referring to the
massive product recall Coke was forced to undertake in
Europe this summer after hundreds of people claimed its
products had made them sick.

The network (www.grrn.org) says it has been waging its
campaign for more than two years. It is upping the ante
now, it says, because Coke has failed to relent.

The thought of garbage dumps overflowing with
discarded plastic bottles is surely an unpleasant one. But
why pick on Coke? It is scarcely the only company to
eschew recycled plastic in its packaging. Most of the rest
of the soft-drink industry, including archrival PepsiCo,
does too, according to the National Soft Drink
Association in Washington.

The network says it is singling out Coke simply because
it is the market leader, both in the U.S. and world-wide.
"Pepsi's no better," Mr. Sheehan concedes. "But if Coke
keeps its promise and sells soda in recycled plastic, we
believe the rest of the industry will have to follow suit."

Picking on the big guy to make a point is nothing new.
And the logic isn't hard to understand, either. Most of
these groups have limited funds, and people are only
going to support a cause they can embrace. So picking
one company serves both ends. "You always pick on the
winner," says Allen Adamson, managing director of
Landor Associates, a branding consultancy in New York.
"If you've got one shot to take, the rule of thumb is you
always try to get the biggest bang for your buck."

The network is going just for that. The ad targets not just
Coke, the company, but also homes in on Chairman and
Chief Executive, M. Douglas Ivester. The ad campaign is
paid for with a $60,000 grant from the Florence Fund, a
Washington nonprofit started earlier this year to fund
environmental organizations and other public-interest
groups. The Florence Fund has helped the network place
the ads strategically on the opinion page of the New York
Times to be read by decision makers, notes Mr. Sheehan.

Mr. Ivester's smiling portrait appears on the ads. Just
under his photo a recent version carries a quote from a
nine-year-old girl: "Dear Mr. Ivester: Why do you hurt
the Earth when it's so easy not to?" Other versions of the
ad carry Mr. Ivester's 1998 compensation, as well as
public statements from 1990 and 1991 touting Coke's
new bottles with recycled plastic.

The ads urge readers to call a Coke 800 consumer-
information number and also print the company's
investor-relations e-mail address.

After launching the recycled-plastic bottle in 1990, Coke
quietly stopped using it a few years later, saying it wasn't
cost effective. Pepsi did the same with its recycled
bottles. The network argues that Coke and other soft-
drink companies are hurting the market price for recycled
plastic by not buying material for their own needs, even
though demand for recycled plastic for other uses, such as
clothing and carpet, is high. The network also says using
recycled plastic would cost Coke only a fraction of a
penny per bottle.

Coke's defenders note that recycled plastic of the quality
needed for beverages is more costly than virgin plastic.

Coke itself appears to be taking the deluge in stride. "This
is the price you pay sometimes for being the industry
leader," says Bill Hensel, a Coke spokesman. "We have
been the industry leader for many years in developing
packaging technologies that are environmentally friendly,
be it glass, aluminum or plastic."

Mr. Hensel says Coke has spent about $10 million since
the mid-1990s searching for ways to reintroduce recycled
material. Coke currently is using some recycled material,
he says, although he declines to estimate how much.


Bill Sheehan
Network Coordinator
GrassRoots Recycling Network
P.O. Box 49283
Athens GA 30604-9283
Tel: 706-613-7121
Fax: 706-613-7123