Coca-Cola Co. is seriously considering using 10 percent recycled content in all of its PET bottles in the United States — four times what it uses now — and supporting a much higher PET container recycling rate by 2005, according to several sources.
Coke officials would not comment, but details were confirmed by several sources familiar with talks the soft drink giant is having with shareholders and environmental interest groups. Sources say Coke plans to tell its bottlers that it is considering the new initiatives, including measures to raise the PET recycling rate to at least 55 percent, or possibly 60 percent.
If confirmed, that would signal a significant new policy for the world's largest soft drink maker and could put more pressure on competitors to follow. Atlanta-based Coke has been under pressure from some shareholders and a coalition known as Businesses and Environmentalists Allied for Recycling.
Coke has said it now is using 10 percent recycled content in one of every four PET bottles — or 2.5 percent recycled content across the board. Coke officials in the past few weeks have said they want to use more recycled content but would not provide specifics.
The new goal — 10 percent in all bottles — still would fall well short of tougher targets set by the Coke shareholders and BEAR, a coalition that includes a large carpet manufacturer, environmental groups and a foundation affiliated with media mogul Ted Turner.
The shareholders — a group describing itself as socially responsible investment firms, including Walden Asset Management and the As You Sow Foundation — want Coke to support a goal of recycling 80 percent of its beverage containers by 2005 and of using 25 percent recycled content in its PET bottles in the United States, as it does in some other countries.
The shareholders have put a resolution on the ballot at Coke's annual meeting in April and are beginning a letter-mailing campaign to thousands of shareholders representing an estimated 70 percent of Coke stock.
Several of the environmental groups, including the GrassRoots Recycling Network, on March 30 launched a campaign of paid advertisements and public events to support the shareholder resolutions.
Some sources noted that Coke backed away from a pledge in the early 1990s to use 25 percent recycled PET in bottles. But other sources said Coke's new policy would be viewed as a positive, if not final, step.
Several sources said Coke already had indicated it would use 5 percent recycled PET in bottles by the end of this year, and they questioned the significance of getting to 10 percent in four years.
Some sources said they want to hear more details from Coke on how it would implement the goals, particularly how it would boost the recycling rate to 55 percent or 60 percent if it maintains its historical opposition to bottle bills. The company considers bottle bills an unfair tax and a hardship for beverage retailers.
Luke Schmidt, president of the National Association for PET Container Resources in Charlotte, N.C., said he had no personal knowledge of Coke's plans but said he would be "shocked" if Coke altered its position on bottle bills.
The PET recycling rate dropped to 23.7 percent in 1999, down from 33.7 percent in 1994, according to PET industry statistics. The recycling rate for PET soft drink containers has dropped from 50 percent in 1994 to 35.7 percent in 1999.
A PepsiCo Inc. spokesman reiterated that his company is testing recycled PET in bottles but "in terms of commercialized packaging with recycled content, as we speak, no."
He declined to describe the company's tests.
Lance King, a spokesman for the environmentalist campaign, said Pepsi has "done nothing on recycling" while Coke has made some steps.