November 15, 1999
Lance King (703) 241-4927 or
Bill Sheehan (706) 613-7121

Coca-Cola Company Misleading Public About
Record on Plastics Recycling

Groups Demand Company Make a Real Commitment to
'Buying Recycled' on America Recycles Day

ATHENS, GA - The Coca-Cola Company is misleading the public about its failure to use recycled plastic in the billions of soda bottles it sells in the U.S. every year, a national network of environmental advocates charged today.

Athens-based GrassRoots Recycling Network today charged that Coke has been falsely telling some of the more than 40,000 citizens who have called or written since July 1999 that they are indeed using recycled plastic now.

"We are releasing this statement now because today is the third annual America Recycles Day, a national event to encourage the public to purchase recycled products. Coca-Cola and the Coke-dominated National Soft Drink Association (NSDA) tout sponsorship of this event as proof of their environmental commitment.  But the facts contradict their claims. Coke and NSDA are leading the industry away from recycled aluminum cans and glass bottles to greater use of virgin plastic bottles," said Rick Best, president of the GrassRoots Recycling Network.

A giant America Recycles Day pledge card was presented to Coca-Cola CEO M. Douglas Ivester at a press conference at the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta at 11:30 AM. Representatives of the GrassRoots Recycling Network and Earth Day 2000 asked Mr. Ivester to pledge that his company will start buying recycled plastic for their soda bottles, as he promised in 1990.

"It's time for Mr. Ivester to accept responsibility for his company’s plastic bottle waste," Best said.

Coke's responses to concerned local government officials and the public have been inconsistent. As recently as an April 29, 1999, Jeff Foote, Coca-Cola's Director of Corporate Environmental Affairs, wrote Mayor Paula M. Delaney of Gainesville, Florida, stating that the company stopped using recycled content in PET plastic soda bottles.

When GRRN launched its advertising campaign in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal in August 1999, Jeff Foote and spokespersons in the company's PR department claimed the company had in fact been testing recycled plastic over the last 12 months.  An article in the August 9th issue of Waste News, an industry trade publication, stated that Coke acknowledged using ‘approximately a million pounds’ of recycled plastic.

Now, in response to a new GRRN ad headlined 'Think Before You Drink Coca-Cola' in the current issue of Sierra magazine, company representatives staffing Coke's consumer hotline are leaving the impression that recycled plastic is being used on a widespread basis.  Consumers are being told that Coke is in fact now using recycled plastic in several states.

"What Coke is not telling inquiring consumers is that it amounts to only one million pounds of recycled plastic while Coke uses 800 million pounds of virgin plastic in the bottles they sell in the U.S. every year – and that is just in their carbonated soda bottles. It’s a drop in the bucket compared to the billions of wasted plastic Coke bottles pumped out each year," Bill Sheehan, GRRN network coordinator, said.

"We are gratified that Mr. Ivester is finally responding to the GrassRoots Recycling Network’s two-year campaign to get Coke to take responsibility for its plastic waste," Sheehan said. "But the public will not be fooled by tokenism. We seek a clear commitment, not just a few tests and more empty promises."

GRRN began receiving calls from Sierra Club members who saw the advertisement and called the Coke consumer line.  More than 540,000 subscribers to Sierra began receiving the November/December 1999 issue of the magazine a few weeks ago.

"Coke has engaged in a pattern of misleading and contradictory statements over the past nine years concerning its commitment to reduce packaging waste from plastic bottles.   They started out by telling the public and Congress they would use recycled plastic because it helped the environment. Then, when nobody was looking they completely stopped using recycled content," said Best.

"Now under public pressure they are once again trying to make it appear they are taking responsibility for their packaging. In reality, Coke is increasingly selling soft drinks in plastic bottles made without an ounce of recycled plastic.  Most of the 10 billion plastic Coke bottles sold in the United States last year were wasted -- littered, landfilled or incinerated - rather than recycled. It's a sham, a fraud on the public," Best said.

"By failing to use recycled plastic, Coke is undermining recycling, creating ever larger amounts of plastic waste and contributing to more pollution from virgin plastics manufacturing," Best said.

GRRN launched its Coke campaign in April 1997, calling on the company to keep its promise to use recycled plastic in making new bottles.  More than 100 recycling leaders, businesses, environmental organizations and public agencies have endorsed the campaign.


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