After years of pressure from environmentalists, Coca-Cola Co. plans to quadruple the amount of recycled content it uses in its PET bottles, according to an internal document.
An April 5 memo to the company's North American bottlers said Coke plans to use 10 percent recycled content in all its PET bottles by 2005, four times the amount it used in 2000.
That falls short of goals that environmentalists and some shareholders are pushing Coke to adopt — 25 percent recycled content and a commitment to get soft-drink container recycling rates to 80 percent. A vote on a that proposal is planned for Coke's April 18 annual shareholders' meeting in Wilmington, Del.
The Coke memo, obtained by Plastics News, makes no mention of recycling rate goals. PN reported April 2 that Coke was considering the 10 percent goal, plus a commitment to boost container recycling to around 60 percent. Atlanta-based Coke declined comment at the time, and the memo is the first confirmation from the soft drink company.
Coke officials could not be reached for comment.
The memo from J.A.M. Douglas Jr., Coca-Cola North America's executive vice president and chief operating officer, states that "while soft drink packaging materials are already being recycled at a rate higher than any other consumer product packaging, we have room to improve and will seek to do so."
The memo notes that Coke has cut the weight of its glass, PET and aluminum packaging by 40 percent since their introductions and said source reduction "continues to be a key element of our program." It said the soft drink industry contributes less than 1 percent to the municipal solid waste stream.
According to the memo, Coke has developed a five-year environmental plan in North America, but no details were provided. The memo states that Coke will seek "progressive — yet nondiscriminatory — solutions" and will work with industry trade groups to provide an "aggressive and common industry approach."
The memo does not address bottle bills directly, but Coke historically has been strongly opposed to deposit laws.
Shareholders in Coke and PepsiCo Inc. that are calling for an 80 percent container recycling rate argue that bottle bills are the only proven method to reach that goal.
"In effect, the resolutions ask Coca-Cola and PepsiCo to stop opposing bottle bills or to offer an alternative policy that can achieve recycling rates equivalent to those in bottle-bill states," said Conrad MacKerron, director of the As You Sow Foundation's corporate accountability program. As You Sow is part of the shareholder group challenging Coke.
Coke's memo pointedly noted that the company challenges its competitors to also use 10 percent recycled PET. Environmentalists have criticized Pepsi for not using any recycled content.