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Twelve environmental groups and a Georgia state senator on March 19 called on Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Co. to take voluntary action to reduce packaging waste from used bottles and cans.

The coalition is led by the Grassroots Recycling Network and Democratic state Sen. Donzella James, who is the sponsor of a bottle bill in Georgia. The group is proposing that Coca-Cola use recycled PET in its plastic bottles, re-establish a nationwide system of refillable con- tainers and reinstate deposits on all containers it sells.

A Coca-Cola spokesman could not be reached for comment. However, Jane Langley, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Soft Drink Association, criticized the move.

``This is not a Coke issue; it's an industry issue,'' she said by telephone March 20.

Grassroots Recycling outlined its requests in a March 19 letter to Coke Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Roberto Goizueta.

``We are challenging Coke to take voluntary action immediately so that billions of the company's soft drink containers that are wasted in landfills or incinerators each year will be reused or recycled instead,'' Lance King, national campaign coordinator for the network, said in a news release.

One of the group's requests is that Coke use post-consumer PET in bottles, ``a step promised by Coca-Cola on Dec. 4, 1990, but never implemented,'' according to the news release.

In 1990, Coke and Pepsi-Cola Co. were battling for the pole position in a race to use recycled-content PET. Coke beat Pepsi to the finish line by almost eight months, using repolymerized resins.

The technology went a step further in 1994 when a major bottle supplier, Johnson Controls Inc.'s Plastic Container Division of Manchester, Mich., won government approval for 100 percent recycled post-consumer PET in direct food contact.

The division now is owned by Schmalbach-Lubeca AG of Ratingen, Germany.

But times have changed and recycled content legislation has fallen by the wayside — and with it, Coke's effort to market recycled PET bottles in the United States. The firm does make recycled-content bottles in Australia, New Zealand, Sweden and Switzerland to comply with legislation there.

Asked why Coke and other bottlers do not use the technology in the United States, Langley said, ``The technology is kind of space agey. Different companies are looking into different technologies that won't be outdated as soon as we use it.''

``Everybody is researching and identifying technology that works and will still be applicable tomorrow.''

The Grassroots network also wants container labels to disclose the percentage of post-consumer recycled material, be it aluminum, glass or plastic.

``At present, consumers are misled because Coca-Cola promised in 1990 to use recycled PET plastic to make new plastic bottles, but the company is not using recycled plastic in bottles sold in the United States,'' according to the news release.

Perhaps the most radical idea proposed by the network was a call to re-establish a nationwide system of refillable containers during the next five years. According to the press release, the company uses refillable containers in some foreign markets and the system would provide more jobs.

``We and Coke have long supported comprehensive recycling programs,'' Langley said.

She said deposits are ineffective in reducing total litter and solid waste, and soft drink containers are already the most-recycled packages in the United States.

Grassroots Recycling said it hopes to receive a response from Coca-Cola by March 26.

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