The Coca-Cola Company has taken a stance against bottle deposit laws, but that doesn’t mean the company isn’t pursuing recycling in other ways.
Gary Wygant, director of recovery development for Coca-Cola Recycling LLC, said the company has launched several recycling initiatives across the nation in recent years to spur material recovery, ranging from a recycling partnership with Atlanta’s Turner Field to donating bins to the National Mall in Washington.
Wygant said consumer awareness is a major factor in recycling success, so the company will deploy its five Recycling Education Vehicles (REVs) 600 times this year.
In years past, the vehicles have made stops at NASCAR races, the Super Bowl, World Series, NCAA Final Four and the national conventions of the Democratic and Republican parties.
Coke expects to reach more than 20 million people with the vehicles this year. In 2010, REVs engaged 19 million people, he said.
The vehicles have video screens, interactive displays and educational games about the benefits of recycling.
“We take an approach to recycling at Coke that is three pronged,” Wygant said. “In order to generate more recycling, we need to provide education and awareness. Make sure the consumer has access to recycling. Then you have to make sure that material is being recovered responsibly and brought back into the supply chain as a valuable commodity.”
Wygant said the company favors a more comprehensive approach to recycling instead of focusing on a small amount of the waste stream like deposit measures do.
The American Beverage Association agrees.
“Invest in comprehensive recycling programs and infrastructure,” said Chris Gindlesperger, director of communications for the Washington D.C.-based association. “Address all materials in the waste stream. [Bottle deposit laws] are costly and outdated. There are many recyclable materials that need to be addressed.”
However, critics say municipal recycling programs aren’t always sustainable.
Anthony Leteri, president of USA Recycling Facility Services in Kings Park, N.Y., said communities often are forced to cut recycling services because they’re too costly.
USA Recycling operates a recycling transfer station, taking in items such as bottles, paper, wood and other nonhazardous waste.
“When you offer an incentive to anyone to generate some revenues, it increases productivity,” Leteri said. “If you look at any city with a bottle law, you can’t show me a case where this isn’t a true story. I have a tremendous respect for the company, but in this issue, I think they need to do their homework.”
To make sure people have access to recycling, Wygant said Coca-Cola has placed 130,000 bins across the nation, including a few hundred at the National Mall, “America’s front lawn.”
Coke also donated two trailers for Mall use, each containing 200 recycling bins that can be easily deployed during events.
Cans collected at the Mall are taken to material recovery facilities, which Wygant said are “underutilized.”
“There is a lot of capacity there. What we need to do is fill it up,” he said. “We do deals to get commodity from them. It’s good commerce.”
As part of Coca-Cola’s access strategy, the company launched Reimagine centers in November at Kroger grocery stores in Arlington, Plano, and Garland, Texas.
People with no access to recycling can drop off their bottles at Reimagine machines stationed in store parking lots and, in return, receive My Coke rewards points they can save to redeem prizes such as McDonald’s gift cards or tickets to Six Flags over Texas in Arlington.
They also can donate points to schools that may be used to purchase supplies, he said.
The company estimates that more than 300,000 containers will be recycled monthly by each machine, keeping 70 tons of waste out of landfills each year.
Wygant said the Reimagine program should expand to more locations next year.
“It’s important to make sure that containers are being converted and used for a useful purpose,” Wygant said. “It’s been recovered; it’s not being incinerated; and it’s creating jobs. For every unit of recycled material, where one job exists for the landfill, 2.5 are created at recycling operations. That’s very powerful. Those materials have real economic value.”