The food-grade PET recycling plant Coca-Cola Co. is building in Spartanburg, S.C., with United Resource Recovery Corp. is just the first of several that the beverage firm intends to build in the United States.
In addition, Coca-Cola Recycling LLC said it will add 35 recycling collection centers by the end of 2008, placing them at existing facilities. The project is part of Coca-Cola Co.'s strategy to reuse or sell all the materials generated by its manufacturing and bottling operations.
The centers will range in size from 3,000-7,000 square feet and will have balers, compactors and handling equipment. The facilities will not collect recyclable materials from sources outside Coke's own operations - at least initially.
``We are going to be inwardly focused and going after the material we generate in-house,'' said John Burgess, president and chief executive officer of Coca-Cola Recycling, in a telephone interview.
CCR is part of Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc., which sells about 80 percent of Coca-Cola Co.'s bottle and can volume in North America.
Coca-Cola's plans to build more than just one food-grade PET recycling plant were not mentioned at its news conference earlier this month in Washington, when the company announced a $60 million recycling initiative.
But Scott Vitters, director of sustainable packaging at Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Co., said the $45 million, 100 million-pound Spartanburg plant that will start operating in September 2008 ``is just the beginning of the journey.''
``It is the first of a number of plants'' that Coca-Cola will have for PET recycling, Vitters said in a Sept. 13 phone interview. ``A bottle-to-bottle strategy is front and center for us.''
Plastics recyclers are concerned that Coca-Cola's moves will drive up prices for baled PET. They are also apprehensive because the largest thrust of Coca-Cola's recycling initiative is focused on internal collection, rather than boosting the PET recycling rate, which has fallen to 23 percent from almost 39 percent in 1994.
``Without an increase in collection of post-consumer PET, increased recycling by [Coke] would exacerbate an already undersupplied recycled PET industry,'' said Dennis Sabourin, executive director of the National Association for PET Container Resources in Sonoma, Calif.
But Vitters stressed Coke is working in a variety of ways to boost the amount of PET recycled by consumers. He pointed to:
* The company's $2 million investment to help the Philadelphia-based RecycleBank program - which has expanded household recycling in New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania - grow nationwide.
* A pilot program with Delta Airlines that began in June to collect all aluminum, plastic and paper products on domestic flights into Atlanta. Both Coke and Delta hope to expand the program to other Delta hubs.
* Recycling at University of Georgia football games and other events such as the four-day Bonaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tenn., where 17,000 pounds of PET was collected.
* Its sponsorship of RecycleMania, a program each spring that this year collected 41.3 million pounds of recyclables over two months at 201 colleges.
``We have been very active in away-from-home recycling,'' Vitters said. ``We want to work with existing community recyclers'' and partner with existing groups. But he added at this point, Coke's emphasis is on capturing materials within its own manufacturing and bottling network.
Vitters said Coke's investment in Spartanburg - in part an equity stake and in part a loan to URCC - ``is the right decision for us.''
``We need to make sure we have a home for the materials we collect,'' he said.
The company has similar investments in PET recycling plants globally, with annual capacities of 30 million pounds in France, 50 million pounds in Mexico and 30 million pounds in Austria. A 20 million-pound plant in the Philippines is expected to begin operating in the fourth quarter.
Vitters said the main intent of the collection centers at CCR is ``to get material the company uses back into our system.'' But he said Coca-Cola is ``not opposed'' to selling excess material or material it doesn't use in production.
Burgess said CCR will sell other materials that it collects internally, including high and low density polyethylene, shrink film, stretch film, strapping from bales, polypropylene closures, old corrugated cartons and paper waste from offices.
The centers will be patterned after a year-old pilot center in Eagan, Minn., that collected 250,000 pounds of material in its first year, Burgess said.
The next collection center will be in Indianapolis, and CCR will look at locations in Florida and Texas after that. The company's goal is to have nine centers open by the end of the year, he said.
In late 2008, the company will put together some pilot programs to evaluate how to collect materials in the communities where the collection centers are located. The first focus will likely be existing customers and suppliers, and possibly other manufacturers.
``We have scaled this to have an upside,'' Burgess said. ``We think the opportunities are very good'' to expand collection beyond the initial internal focus.