August 2, 1999
Contact: Lance King (703) 241-4927

"Coke's broken promise" is headline in New York Times ad linking Coca-Cola CEO to plastic bottle waste

ATLANTA, GA - Coca-Cola's Chairman and CEO M. Douglas Ivester is responsible for wasting billions of plastic Coke bottles every year, a nonprofit group charges in the first of a series of paid advertisements appearing today on the Op Ed Page of the New York Times.

"Coca-Cola is the beverage industry leader, but their CEO Mr. Ivester is leading in the wrong direction. Switching from recycled glass bottles and aluminum cans, Coke's move to plastics is creating a growing problem for the environment, recycling and taxpayers," GrassRoots Recycling Network President Rick Best said from his office in Sacramento, California.

The advertising campaign, combined with Citizen Alerts sent to over 300,00 Working Assets long distance customers in their July phone bills, is a major expansion of the GrassRoots Recycling Network project targeting Coke’s plastic bottle waste.

"Mr. Ivester announced plans to sell Coke in recycled-plastic bottles in December 1990. He said it would boost recycling and reduce reliance on virgin plastic. During the test-marketing, Mr. Ivester led the public relations campaign touting consumer acceptance and the fact that Coke's recycled-plastic bottles met the company's rigorous standards," Best said.

"Coke's promise to recycle is easily documented in the public record. Just read Mr. Ivester's own words and Coca-Cola's promotional materials," said Dr. Bill Sheehan, national coordinator for GrassRoots Recycling Network from its Athens, Georgia headquarters.

The Coca-Cola Company news release on December 4, 1990 contains the following statements from Mr. Ivester: "Producing new plastic beverage bottles with a blend of recycled plastic is a significant step ahead in plastics recycling," says 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."

According to the December 4, 1990 release, the recycled plastic bottle "meets The Coca-Cola Company's strict standards for product quality, consumer safety and environmental impact."

Coke stopped using recycled plastic bottles in the United States 4 years ago, citing costs. Since then, the company dramatically increased reliance on virgin-plastic bottles with introduction of the 20-ounce, single-serve plastic bottle. "New plastic recycling techniques approved by FDA add only a fraction of a cent per bottle. And Coke uses recycled plastic bottles - and even refillable plastic bottles - in other countries," Dr. Sheehan said. -more -

"Recycling rates for the PET plastic soda bottle dropped from a peak of 50 percent in 1994 to only 35.6 percent in 1998 in the United States. It is the biggest drop in a recycling rate for any beverage packaging material in this decade. Coke must take the lion's share of responsibility as the industry leader," said GRRN Consultant Lance King in Washington, D.C. The Cola-Cola Company has 45 percent of the U.S. market and 50 percent of the global market.

"Coke is creating the problem by switching to plastic bottles with no recycled material. They're pushing costs in a weak and unstable market onto recycling businesses like mine, on local government, taxpayers and the environment," said Eco-Cycle Executive Director Eric Lombardi. Eco-Cycle is the largest nonprofit recycling business in the nation. Founded in 1976, his organization provides recycling services to 280,000 residents and 800 business clients in Boulder County, Colorado.

"It's time for Coca-Cola to take responsibility for the growing plastic bottle waste and stop trying to pass the buck," Lombardi said.

Local governments feel the problem directly. City councils and public agencies in communities in 3 states have already passed resolutions targeting Coke's plastic bottle waste. These include: the City of Gainesville, Florida; the Winona County Board of Commissioners in Minnesota; and, in California the City of West Hollywood, the Alameda County Source Reduction and Recycling Board, and the San Luis Obispo Integrated Waste Management Authority.

"Local governments are paying to move our recycled plastic soda bottles because Coke and others are failing to do their part to build stable markets," GRRN Board Member Anne Morse said. Morse is the Winona County recycling coordinator, with first-hand experience in dealing with the growing plastic waste problem.

Coca-Cola counters complaints about its plastic bottles by citing high overall recycling rates for all beverage containers (aluminum, glass and plastic combined) and saying it buys $2 billion worth of recycled products and supplies annually in the U.S.

"Coke's management simply wants to change the subject. But the facts speak for themselves. In 1998, industry data shows that 2 of every 3 plastic Coke bottles sold in the United States were dumped, not recycled. Mr. Ivester's company is using more virgin plastic and less recycled packaging. The problem is getting worse, not better," said King.

Pat Franklin, executive director of the Arlington, Virginia-based Container Recycling Institute, which provides independent analysis of container and packaging policies and trends, said "Coca-Cola is misleading the public by claiming credit for high beverage container recycling rates. The highest recycling rates are all in 'bottle bill' states, where deposits create a financial incentive to recycle. Coke has fought bottle bills for 30 years, spending tens of millions of dollars, and continues to oppose these laws today."

"We are gaining support among public officials, recycling leaders, environmentalists, consumers, and Coca-Cola shareholders for our campaign - with 88 endorsers in 26 states. Through the advertising campaign, GRRN expects to reach millions more people," Dr. Sheehan said. For more information see the GRRN Internet web-site at


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