1997 GRRN Letter to Coke

[NOTE: The letter below was sent to Coca-Cola in 1997, asking for Coke's voluntary commitment to take responsibility for its packaging waste in four areas. In September 1998, we decided to focus on the simplest area -- closing the loop by using recycled plastic in plastic soda bottles, which are increasingly replacing containers with recycled content. Mr. Goizuetta has since died, his place was taken by M. Douglas Ivester. The GrassRoots Recycling Network has never received acknowledgement of this letter.]

March 19, 1997

Mr. Roberto C. Goizuetta
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
The Coca-Cola Company
One Coca-Cola Plaza
Atlanta, Georgia 30313

Dear Mr. Goizuetta:

We are writing you on behalf of the Grassroots Recycling Network to ask that the Coca-Cola Company take immediate voluntary steps to reduce packaging waste from your used beverage containers. The Grassroots Recycling Network brings together recycling advocates, environmentalists, economic development groups, businesses, non-profit organizations and other community-based activists working to reduce waste and develop an environmentally sustainable economy. It is our belief that industry and community can work together to solve the problem of wasted resources to everyone’s mutual benefit.

As the world’s leading soft drink manufacturer, your company is uniquely positioned to lead the industry in taking responsibility for the billions of beverage containers presently littered or sent to landfills each year. The time to act is now.

Taxpayers and local governments presently pay the cost for disposal of your containers, which even by the most conservative estimates costs tens of million of dollars annually. The costs really amount to an "unfunded" garbage mandate paid by financially strapped local governments and citizens who may not even consume your product.

Even more significant are the hidden environmental, health and energy costs associated with producing aluminum cans and glass and plastic bottles from newly mined resources rather than from recycled containers. For example, as you probably know, it takes 95 percent less energy to produce an aluminum can from recycled cans than from newly mined and processed bauxite ore.

One area where the Coca-Cola Company promised voluntary leadership is use of recycled plastic (PET) in your beverage containers. In December 1990 you announced that you would begin using recycled plastic in your bottles, but have not followed through. The technology for cost-effective production of 100 percent recycled-content plastic bottles has been available in the United States since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave its approval in 1994 for food contact applications.

Coca-Cola’s use of refillable beverage containers in other countries demonstrates that even greater levels of resource conservation and environmental protection can be achieved by the world’s most successful soft drink company without sacrificing growth and profitability.

Clearly there is a need for a stable and reliable supply of recovered bottles and cans to achieve the waste reduction and environmental objectives our organizations are pursuing. As you well know, financial incentives work.

Whether it is the old system of deposits that Coca-Cola and other soft drink companies used decades ago or the bottle bill deposit systems used by 10 states and some other nations, twice as many beverage containers are recycled when consumers pay a deposit. We are not calling for a government mandate or a packaging ban. We are calling for voluntary, market-oriented solutions so that Americans can recycle more and stop wasting precious resources.

Fundamentally, we are asking the Coca-Cola Company to return to its roots, to take responsibility for your packaging waste, to teach present and future generations that the values of thrift and environmental protection serve our common objectives as responsible citizens and consumers.

You might be wondering why we are singling out Coca-Cola. You are the industry leader, with the best known product brand name in the world. With nearly half of the United States market, Coca-Cola’s actions directly affect the entire market. Where you lead, others will follow.

Americans, on average, consume more than 510 soft drinks and servings of beer per year, but nationally only 38 percent of soft drink and beer containers get recycled. More than 50 billion of these single-serve, throwaway containers end up in landfills or littered on beaches, playgrounds, country roads, and city streets.

The costs to society in wasted energy, resources, pollution, and worker health and safety are enormous in the mining, processing, manufacturing, transporting and disposing of containers made from new resources rather than using recycled materials or refillable containers. These hidden costs are being forced upon society as a whole with every bottle or can used everyday.

On the positive side of the recycling and refillable container balance sheet, recycling creates 10 times more net jobs on average than landfills. Reuse of products and materials creates up to 50 times more jobs on average than landfills. Even more important, the value added in recycling and reuse benefits communities by keeping more dollars in jobs and businesses where the product is purchased.

We know the old arguments that soft drinks are a relatively small amount of municipal solid waste and other containers could be recycled also. But you know the pennies add up, whether it is the cost of producing, transporting and disposing of your beverage containers or the environmental costs of mining and refining resources with all the associated pollution, energy, and worker safety issues.

More than 100 million Americans recycle everyday. You can take a corporate leadership by accepting responsibility for wasteful practices that ultimately undermine our economy and damage the environment. It is not fair to push the costs of landfill disposal and litter clean-up on local governments and taxpayers.

We are asking Coca-Cola to take 4 voluntarily steps and request the favor of a reply to this proposal by March 26, 1997:

(1) Begin using recycled PET plastic immediately in your plastic bottles, a step promised by the Coca-Cola Company in 1990. Whether you choose to use up to 100 percent recycled PET in plastic bottles in selected markets or begin by using a smaller percentage of recycled PET in all plastic bottles, Coca Cola can immediately reduce the amount of plastic going to landfills or incinerators by millions of pounds in 1997.

(2) Disclose in labels on containers the percentage of post-consumer recycled material in each type of container - aluminum, glass or plastic. The public has a right to know whether bottles and cans being recycled are being recycled into new containers. At present, consumers are misled because Coca Cola promised in 1990 to use recycled plastic in bottles but is in fact using no recycled plastic in bottles sold in the United States.

(3) Re-establish a nationwide system of refillable containers during the next 5 years. Coca Cola uses refillable containers in some overseas markets and can return to this system in the United States as well, which will provide many more jobs in communities where the products are purchased and used.

(4) Commit to reinstate deposits on all containers sold in the United States within 18 months -- like the system you operated before. Manufacturers producing a product and consumers using it need to take responsibility for the packaging costs of disposal in landfills or incinerators and for the wasted resources. Deposits are economic incentives that will double the rate of container recycling, reduce litter, create local jobs and supply a steady stream of materials for making new bottles and cans.

Voluntary cooperative action to reduce waste will be less disruptive than protracted legislative battles or consumer boycotts. We believe that recycling and reuse are keys to a healthy economy and environment now and in the future. Both community and business will prosper as recycling is proving everyday.

By assuming your responsibility as a manufacturer for packaging waste, Coca-Cola can make a real difference. Without voluntary leadership on your part, demands for government intervention by organized citizen groups are likely to increase.

Thank you for your prompt consideration of our proposals. We look forward to working with you to reduce waste and promote recycling.


Lance M. King

Coke Campaign Coordinator, Grassroots Recycling Network (Sacramento CA)

For the Grassroots Recycling Network Steering Committee:

Rick Anthony, California Resource Recovery Association (San Diego CA)
Resa Dimino, Non-Profit Recycling Council (New York NY)
Brenda Platt, Institute for Local Self-Reliance (Washington DC)
David Kirkpatrick, KirkWorks (Durham NC)
Neil Seldman, Ph.D., Institute for Local Self-Reliance (Washington DC)
Bill Sheehan, Ph.D., Sierra Club National Waste Committee (Athens GA)

Organizations joining in this request are:

Action for a Clean Environment (Homer GA)
Glynn Environmental Coalition (Brunswick GA)
Save Atlanta’s Fragile Environment (Atlanta GA)
Georgia Sierra Club (Atlanta GA)
Planning and Conservation League (Sacramento CA)

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