Coca-Cola Co. and several partners are investing $20 million to build a PET recycling plant near Mexico City to produce high-quality material that can be reused in Coke bottles.
The plant will have capacity to make about 50 million pounds of recycled PET a year, and will be built with bottler Coca-Cola Femsa and bottle maker Alpla Mexico SA de CV, in a joint venture called IMER, or Industria Mexicana de Reciclaje SA de CV.
The facility will use partial depolymerization recycling technology developed by United Resource Recovery Corp. in Spartanburg, S.C.
Coca-Cola de Mexico officials said they would start putting 10 percent recycled content in some PET bottles and would begin gradually increasing their use of recycled PET, but they declined to be more specific. Coke officials in the United States, by comparison, have committed to using 10 percent recycled content in all their bottles by 2005.
``We do have a target but we don't feel comfortable talking about that,'' said Adriana Valladares, spokeswoman in the company's Mexico City office. ``We're going to see once our plant begins to produce the material.''
The facility should be operating by November 2004. It will be built in Toluca, about 35 miles west of Mexico City, and funded roughly evenly by the three partners, she said.
Coke's approach to recycling in Mexico is different than in the United States, where it has not invested directly in any recycling plants but instead has worked with various companies developing technology, including URRC.
Coke de Mexico is investing directly in a recycling plant because ``it is part of our social responsibility efforts,'' Valladares said. The Mexican government has recently launched efforts to boost the collection of PET, and Coke wants to stimulate markets, she said.
Mexico has the highest per capita consumption of Coke products in the world, which also makes the company feel it needs a sustainable business model, she said.
Coca-Cola de Mexico believes it can demonstrate the business case, although in the United States, Coke officials have said as recently as May that they pay a premium for their use of recycled PET.
``We're not going to lose money or give away this money to have this social impact'' in Mexico, Valladares said. ``There is a business opportunity.''
The firm's Aug. 14 announcement in Mexico City was a high profile event, attracting the country's Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Victor Lichtinger.
Coke's partnership includes its largest bottler in the country, Coca-Cola Femsa. The firm could open other recycling plants with other bottlers later, but has not made any firm decisions, she said.
Coke's Mexican operations have licensed the URRC process for 10 years, said Gerry Fishbeck, URRC's vice president of operations.
The plant is the fourth worldwide to use the URRC technology, and the first in Latin America, he said. Two are in Europe and URRC maintains a smaller facility in Spartanburg. The company believes Coke's choice will spur additional interest from other firms in its technology.
``We certainly would expect to see more activity worldwide,'' Fishbeck said.