[GRRN] Plastics News: Is Coke effort the real thing?

Bill Sheehan (zerowaste@grrn.org)
Wed, 15 Sep 1999 23:44:17 -0400

[The op-ed below appears in the latest
edition of Plastics News, a large-format
trade journal read by many in the plastics
industry. (Plastics News, $62/year, 800-

The piece appears below a cartoon labeled
"Oracle at Coca-Cola" showing a contour
Coke bottle in a Greek shrine with a sign
'Out to Lunch'. Two reporters ask:
"Your recent environmental conscience .
is this 'the real thing'?" See it at

Is Coke effort the real thing?

By Steve Toloken

Trying to figure out whatīs going on at
Coca-Cola Co. with recycled PET is like
paying a visit to a palm reader -- you get
a lot of vague answers and things that
sound pretty exciting, at first blush.

Coke now is acknowledging it has used
recycled content in PET bottles sold in the
United States in the past year. It
disclosed this without fanfare, and so far,
the effort amounts to about 1 million
pounds of post-consumer PET and an
investment exceeding $10 million for the
soft-drink giant.

The company is tight-lipped about the test,
refusing to say if itīs a soft drink or
water or some other product. And the
company offers no details on the technology
-- a direct blend like itīs using in
Australia, multilayer or a revamped
depolymerization that it tried and
abandoned as uneconomical in the early

Itīs the timing that makes you wonder.

Word dribbled out from Coke as the company
is facing more pressure from
environmentalists on what they say is
Cokeīs broken promise to use recycled-
content PET.

The GrassRoots Recycling Network launched
ads last month in the New York Times and
the Wall Street Journal that were sharply
critical of the company. Sources involved
in GRRNīs effort say it has caught the
attention of some socially responsible
investment houses.

So is Coke really pushing research here, or
is it floating this to soften the criticism
against it? Hard to know with its vague,
Oracle-at-Delphilike statements.

To be sure, the issue is complicated. And
Coke probably does not want to raise
expectations if this test isnīt economical.

Recyclers worry that if Coke were to use a
lot of recycled content, it would suck up
the available supply at a time when they
often struggle to find enough PET. They
fear that would harm the 50-some nonbottle
markets for PET, like carpets and clothing.

Of course, Cokeīs use of a lot of recycled
PET probably would drive up the cost of
material, and that could provide an
economic incentive for cities and states to
get more PET into the system. In other
words, more recycling -- provided the cost
doesnīt go so high that it gets more
expensive than virgin resin.

And some of those who worry about Coke
getting into recycling and ruining those
markets also are protecting their supply,
and just donīt want to see more competition
for the coveted bottle-bill-state material
that they use to make carpeting and other

All in all, it shows recycling is not dead
as a political issue. It may not have the
pull of phthalates leaching from toys or
intravenous tubing. But -- considering that
California legislators voted last month to
expand its bottle bill, Wisconsin and
Kentucky are being closely watched, and
pressure is building on Coke -- recycling
seems back on the radar screen.