"Coke and Pepsi shareholders are calling on company management to take responsibility for billions of bottles and cans wasted rather than recycled every year. Our campaign is intended to focus attention on recycling proposals being voted upon at annual shareholder meetings," Bill Sheehan, network coordinator for the GrassRoots Recycling Network, said in announcing the campaign.
The GrassRoots Recycling Network (Athens, Georgia), Container Recycling Institute (Arlington, Virginia) and Waste Not Georgia (Atlanta, Georgia) are leading the campaign, which will include paid advertising, organizing events, outreach and presentations at the shareholder meetings.
The Coca-Cola Company annual shareholder meeting is April 18, 2001 in Delaware. PepsiCo Inc. holds its shareholder meeting on May 2, 2001, in Dallas, Texas.
Shareholder resolutions were submitted to Coke and PepsiCo in November 2000. As You Sow Foundation (San Francisco), Walden Asset Management (Boston), Domini Social Investment (New York), Trillium Asset Management (Boston), and Atlanta shareholder Lewis Regenstein filed the resolution with Coke. Walden and Domini filed the resolution with PepsiCo.
The resolutions call upon management to establish recycling targets and prepare a plan to achieve them by January 1, 2005. There are two goals: (1) achieving an 80 percent national recycling rate for bottles and cans; and (2) making plastic bottles with an average of 25 percent recycled plastic.
Coke and Pepsi are the soft drink industry leaders. Coke had 44 percent market share and Pepsi had 31 percent market share in the United States in 1999, according to Beverage Marketing Corporation.
"Beverage container waste increased by more than 50 percent between 1992 and 1999. Increasing use of plastic bottles combined with the rise of new beverages not covered by deposits are key factors in falling recycling rates," said Pat Franklin, executive director of the Container Recycling Institute.
Shareholder groups introduced the resolutions when talks with corporate management showed no sign of coming to grips with the rapidly growing beverage container waste problem. While Coca-Cola management opposes the recycling proposal, Proxy Proposal 5, the company is continuing private discussions with the investment funds and various interested parties. PepsiCo management opposes the recycling resolution, Item 6 on the shareholder meeting agenda, and sought unsuccessfully to block it through proceedings before the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
"The investors' goals are realistic because they are being achieved now in some U.S. states and in other countries," said Lance King, a campaign spokesman and consultant to the environmental groups. "Coca-Cola is using 25 percent recycled plastic in bottles in Australia and several other countries. And the ten U.S. states that require refundable container deposits currently have an 80 percent recycling rate. In fact, those 10 states recycle the largest portion of the beverage containers in the United States."
"Most people are shocked to learn about the massive increase in beverage container waste, which is often first seen in the form of litter on streets, beaches, park and farm lands. But the biggest environmental impacts are the energy needed to make aluminum and plastic from virgin resources, pollution from extracting and refining oil and mineral resources, and disposal of wasted containers in landfills and incinerators," Franklin said.
Environmental groups, led by the GrassRoots Recycling Network, have waged a four-year campaign targeting Coke's plastic bottle waste. More than 200 environmental organizations, recycling leaders and businesses, student groups and public officials support the Coke-Take It Back! Campaign launched by GRRN in April 1997.
"Shareholder groups contacted us after a series of paid advertisements in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and other publications in 1999," Sheehan said.
State and local concern about the growing beverage container waste problem is prompting new alliances to combat the problem.
"We waste more than 70% of our beverage containers, over 3.75 billion, in Georgia each year alone. These are resources needed by Georgia industries, but are lost at expense to taxpayers, our communities, and our environment. By supporting the recycling resolutions we are sending messages to Coke and Pepsi to do the real thing when it comes to the recycling and reuse, "said Bob Woodall, executive director of the Atlanta-based Waste Not Georgia. Woodall said his group was formed by leaders from 37 organizations that came together to address this problem.
"The consumers and shareholders I talk to understand that beverage companies like Coke and Pepsi need to exercise environmental leadership in selling products," Woodall said.
For more information on the shareholder campaign, visit the Internet at: www.grrn.org