Coca-Cola Co. plans to construct a PET recycling plant in the United States with the capacity to recycle 2 billion 20-ounce bottles annually. The investment coincides with a sharp drop in 2006 in the amount of recycled content in the company's U.S. PET soft drink bottles to less than 5 percent, after two consecutive years of reaching its stated goal of 10 percent.
Coke, based in Atlanta, did not give a companywide recycled-content figure. But Coca-Cola Enterprises, which bottles 19 percent of Coca-Cola nonalcoholic beverages worldwide and is its largest bottler, used recycled PET for 3.8 percent of its needs last year.
In some other countries, Coca-Cola Enterprises, also of Atlanta, uses a higher recycled content. In 2006, for example, it introduced in the Netherlands a light-weight, recyclable bottle containing 25 percent recycled material that will replace the refillable plastic bottles it previously sold in that market.
Lisa Manley, Coca-Cola Co. director of environmental communications, said the company will announce additional details and a timetable for the recycling plant at a Sept. 5 news conference in Washington that will focus on sustainable packaging. Coca-Cola currently has PET recycling plants in Mexico and Austria.
Manley said the company fell short of its 10 percent goal in 2006 in the U.S. because it wanted to focus on increasing collection efforts and because there was not enough PET recovered.
``Not enough PET is recovered today to meet increasing demands for recycled content,'' said Manley, adding that the company has found it more difficult to buy recycled PET resin because demand from China and India has pushed prices up and tightened the supply.
Prices for baled recycled PET are typically 6 cents per pound higher on the West Coast because of competition from Chinese buyers - who purchase more than 34 percent of the PET bottles collected for recycling in the United States.
Manley said the company is working to boost the supply of recycled PET through the Coca-Cola Recycling LLC joint venture it started in late 2006 with Coca-Cola Enterprises. It also has formed partnerships to recover materials at entertainment and sports events, and has invested in RecycleBank, a Philadelphia company that offers discounts for merchandise to families based on the amount of material they recycle.
In 2005, the latest year for which data was available from the National Association for PET Container Resources in Sonoma, Calif., 23.1 percent of PET containers were recycled - meaning almost 4 billion pounds of PET bottles were not recycled. That compares with 1994, when 38.8 percent of all PET bottles were recycled.
Manley did not provide specifics of what Coca-Cola Recycling has done or whether it has boosted recycling of materials.
``It is a new organization and strategy is being developed to maximize'' recovery of packaging materials - PET, aluminum, cardboard and film - ``and bring it to market for reuse.''
Coca-Cola also has invested $2 million to help RecycleBank in Philadelphia expand from its current 100,000 households in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware.
``Our latest investment in RecycleBank will allow them to expand into the Northeast and eventually nationwide,'' Manley said.
She said Coca-Cola also has helped RecycleBank ``build relationships with some of our customers and helped them establish contacts with numerous city officials.'' Manley said Coca-Cola also had given RecycleBank $100,000 to support its Green Community Fund.
Despite the need for more recycled materials, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo Inc. have opposed bottle deposits. But there may be ``a fissure in the armor'' on that issue, one source said.
Kim Jefferey, president and chief executive officer of Greenwich, Conn.'s Nestle Waters North America Inc., is heading an American Beverage Association task force of executives from Nestle, Pepsi and Coke that had its first meeting in August to discuss ways to increase consumer interest in recycling.
``Don't discount his influence,'' said the source. ``He has questioned why the industry is fighting these things called deposits.''