San Francisco Chronicle
November 19, 1999


By Edward Epstein, Chronicle Staff Writer

San Francisco is girding for a battle with the giant Coca-Cola Co. over the soft-drink maker's failure to make greater use of recycled plastic in its bottles.

The Board of Supervisors Public Health and Environment Committee passed a resolution by Supervisor Gavin Newsom yesterday urging the Atlanta company and its affiliates to start using more recycled plastic in the estimated 10 billion plastic bottles it turns out annually in the United States.

Like every other county in California, San Francisco is under the gun from the state to reduce the amount of material being dumped into landfills. It cannot require Coca-Cola to use recycled plastic, but it could pass legislation giving preference to recycled materials in city purchasing, aides to Newsom said.

That would cover drinks sold in vending machines at City Hall or San Francisco General Hospital, for example.

San Francisco now recycles 40 percent of its solid waste. If it does not get to the state-required figure of 50 percent by the end of next year, it faces the possibility of $10,000 a day in fines.

Plastic takes up lots of landfill room because it does not break down over the years. Discarded plastic is also dangerous to animals that try to eat it.

Coca-Cola was singled out in Newsom's resolution because it is the world's largest soft-drink maker and because environmentalists say Coca-Cola Chairman Douglas Ivester has reneged on a 1990 corporate promise to use recycled polyethylene terephthalate, known as PET, plastics.

Newsom also said Coca-Cola makes heavy use of recycled plastic overseas. ``Why not here?'' he said. ``They're wrong on this, and they know it.''

Newsom's proposal, which originated at the city Environment Commission, will go before the full Board of Supervisors on December 6.

The Grassroots Recycling Network has been trying to get government entities across the country to pass resolutions urging Coca-Cola to act. California agencies that already have done so include the solid-waste management agencies in Alameda and San Luis Obispo counties.

San Luis Obispo County is urging consumers to put 55 cents postage on plastic two-liter Coca-Cola bottles and mail them to Ivester.

Newsom said he will introduce another resolution calling on other major soft-drink bottlers, including Pepsi-Cola and Cadbury-Schweppes, also to use more recycled plastics.

``Coca-Cola is the industry leader. They should be leading by example,'' said Francesca Vietor, director of the San Francisco Ethics Environment Commission.

Rick Best, president of the Grassroots Recycling Network, said industry publications estimate that recycled plastic accounts for 1 million pounds out of some 800 million pounds produced for Coca-Cola annually in the United States.

Coca-Cola spokesman Trey Paris would not say what the figure is.

He said Coca-Cola officials came to San Francisco recently to try to head off Newsom's resolution.

``It's all a little puzzling,'' Paris said of the pressure being put on the company by San Francisco. ``They say we're not using recycled PET in our bottles. The simple fact is we are.''

He said the company is using a steadily increasing amount of recycled plastic and has invested $13 million in new recycling technology.

1999 San Francisco Chronicle, Page A26

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