Coke's Broken Promise To Recycle
The Coca-Cola Company promised in 1990 to use recycled plastic
in their soda bottles. Here is an excerpt from the Coca-Cola company's
original press release, subtitled 'Closed Loop' Process Turns
Bottles Back Into Bottles.' Interestingly, the Coke official quoted
in this and subsequent releases is none other than M. Douglas
Ivester, chairman and C.E.O. of Coca-Cola until February 2000.
Clearly, Mr. Ivester knew the right thing to do back then.
"Producing new plastic beverage bottles with
a blend of recycled plastic is a significant step ahead in plastics
recycling," said M. Douglas Ivester, senior vice president, The
Coca-Cola Company and president, Coca-Cola USA. "The technology
will allow the 'closed loop' recycling of our plastic bottles,
just as our other suppliers use recycled aluminum and steel for
cans and recycled glass for glass bottles."
-- PR Newswire, December 4, 1990
When Coke started test marketing the new bottle
in Charlotte NC:
"This market introduction signals a new phase
of development for plastic packaging," said M. Douglas Ivester,
president, Coca-Cola USA. "The bottle made with recycled plastic
represents the latest breakthrough in our on-going commitment
to the environment through minimizing virgin raw materials used
in our packaging. ... One of the primary benefits of this
package will be to encourage greater recycling of plastic soft
drink packaging by consumers," Mr. Ivester said. "More than half
of all soft drink cans are recycled and we want to reach and exceed
that level with plastic packaging."
-- PR Newswire, March 12, 1991
After the test marketing:
"The Coca-Cola Company (NYSE: KO) today announced
plans to expand the introduction of plastic soft drink bottles
made with recycled plastic soft drink bottles into southeastern
and midwestern markets, beginning in September. Today's announcement
signals the completion of a successful, five-month market test
in Charlotte, N.C.
"We're extremely pleased with the results from
Charlotte," said M. Douglas Ivester, president, Coca-Cola USA.
"Consumer acceptance of the first-ever commercial use of soft
drink bottles made with recycled plastic soft drink bottles exceeded
our expectations." . ...
"Expanding the availability of bottles made with
recycled plastic into additional markets helps the Coca-Cola system
further demonstrate 'closed-loop' recycling while encouraging
greater recycling of plastic soft drink packaging by consumers,"
Mr. Ivester said.
-- PR Newswire, August 27, 1991
Here are some other sources:
"Coke and Pepsi took their long rivalry to the
environmental arena yesterday, with each company saying it would
be the first to sell soft drinks in plastic bottles made with
materials recycled from used bottles."
-- New York Times, December 5, 1990
"With their pledge to start using bottles
made in part from recycled resins, [Coke and Pepsi] will begin
to reduce dependence on petroleum-based resins."
-- Editorial, Chicago Tribune, December 14, 1990
The commitment to make recycled plastic soda bottles was made,
in part, in response to the threat of minimum content legislation
and container deposit legislation in several states. Coke even
took their recycled bottle to Congress in the early 1990s and
showed it off in testimony aimed at stemming the call for mandates
(according to Lance King, GRRN campaign consultant). Both Coke
and Pepsi used some recycled plastic in select markets for several
years -- until about 1994 or 1995 when public interest in recycling
appeared to wane and the threat of legislation seemed to disappear.
Coke currently uses zero recycled plastic in the 8 to 10 billion
plastic soda bottles it sells in the U.S. each year. Likewise,
Pepsi uses no recycled plastic.
Coke says it costs too much to do what almost everyone agrees
is 'the real thing' -- buy recycled content bottles. This may
make sense in a strict, internalized-cost sense. But in the larger
sense, it is clearly not true. The external costs to society of
not recycling are skyrocketing.
Coke notes proudly that they use plastic bottles with recycled
content, as well as environmentally preferable refillable bottles,
in other countries, due to strict governmental mandates on recycling.
Coke has spent millions of its $1.6 billion annual global advertising
budget fighting such mandates (minimum content legislation and
bottle bills), especially in the U.S. We have seen how far voluntary
promises to recycle plastic got us. Perhaps what Coke is really
saying is that they need a little push from mandates to make good
on their voluntary commitments?
About PEPSI: Pepsi has done no better than Coke.
GRRN is focusing on Coke because it is the market leader (44%
of the U.S. market compared with Pepsi's 32%; 50% of the world
market vs. Pepsi's 20%). If Coke decides to change its ways Pepsi
will follow Coke's lead just like it did in 1990. Who knows, if
Pepsi were smart, it would pre-empt Coke -- maybe even leapfrog
to embracing deposits and refillables!