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Coca-Cola promised to improve recycling. Here's how to deliver it

The company has committed to produce bottles and cans of at least 50% recycled material over the next eleven years. Coca-Cola ( KO ) must be able to capture recycled material and make new packaging from it.

It's a big deal According to a new report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which works with companies on waste prevention, the company produced over 3 million tonnes of plastic packaging in 2017.

Coca-Cola is one of many large companies that have made comprehensive sustainability commitments. Obligations to reduce waste are a way for brands, customers, who are increasingly interested in the environment, to show their concern, and to share this message with employees. In addition, recycling offers companies the ability to better control their supply chains and avoid potentially volatile commodity markets.

However, recycling commitments are difficult to achieve. For Coca-Cola to live up to its promise, the beverage company must make its packaging fully recyclable, which it plans to do by 2025. It also needs to get people to recycle properly, and it would be helpful if Coca Cola's customers live in places with adequate housing recycling infrastructure.

If Coca-Cola wants to keep its promise, it must help repair recycling systems in the communities it serves.

  Blue wastebaskets are located on a residential street in Portland, Oregon. Coca-Cola will leverage insights from its Atlanta program to scale its recycling efforts.

Start Small

On Thursday, the Coca-Cola Foundation announced that it had given a number of environmental organizations, including GreenBlue, $ 5.4 million Dollars for recycling feeds efforts in Orlando, Keep Houston Beautiful and the Boston Parks and Recreation Foundation.

Most of the money, about $ 4.15 million, goes to the Recycling Partnership, a national nonprofit group that uses corporate financing to develop the recycling infrastructure. The partnership uses these funds to improve recycling in Atlanta.

  City workers identify recycling containers with contaminating objects.

The City's Goal is to Reduce Recycling Contamination Cody Marshall, Chief Community Officer of the Recycling Partnership, told CNN Business that the proportion of recyclable materials in the United States 20% in around 100,000 households over the next three years. It's a "heavy lift," he said. "But we are really confident that we can do it."

Coke, supported by the partnership, launches a campaign on "Walking on the Road". The initiative employs city employees and contract workers to search for garbage cans on curbs for contaminating items such as plastic bags, food, liquids or electronics, and to leave a note indicating what is wrong in the containers in which those items are found ,

Employees notice the violation in an app to track changes in their recycling habits over time. Recycling is only collected when the affected items are fished by the users.

The citizens of Atlanta also receive mailing letters, and the city will enlighten the public about the proper recycling through their social media channels. The money from the grant will help fund recycling programs for multi-family homes and colleges in the city.

The city and the recycling partnership tested a similar program in nearly 5,000 households in 2017. This pilot program resulted in a 57% reduction in recycling contamination and a 27% increase in the collection of recyclable materials.

The recycling problem

Recycling is complicated.

There are different rules for cities that can be recycled. If something that is not normally recyclable – like a coffee cup made of paper – is thrown into a wastebasket, it can cause problems for recycling plants. For example, the cups tend to absorb recycling equipment because their plastic liner gets stuck in machine filters. To eliminate the contaminating, non-recyclable items, the recycling companies have to sort out the garbage itself and dispose of it at the expense of landfills.
For some time, economics made sense for recyclers. They were able to sell enough recycled material to make up for the waste disposal costs. However, China has recently adopted its "national sword" policy, which restricts the type of recycling that the country wants to import. The recycling business model has changed since then.

When China closed its doors to certain materials, some US recyclers remained without key buyers. The hardest hit are the states that have sent the most recycling to China, including New York.

  Workers sort plastic waste in a plastic recycling plant in Mexico.

New York State Municipalities "Outside of New York City" now has a total of $ 42 million to pay for the sorting and marketing of recyclables, as the material value is the sorting cost no longer covers, "said Stephen Acquario, executive director of the New York State Association of Counties, in a message to the head of the National Association of Counties.

He added that in many municipalities" since 2017 due to the recession in the paper market there was an increase in recycling costs of more than 1,000 percent. "In places like Atlanta, where never before has so much recycled material been shipped to China, the ban had less impact.

" We have a really strong recycling infrastructure for bottles, Cans and textiles, not only in Atlanta, but also in Georgia, "said Kanika Greenlee, environment program director of the Department of Public Working from Atlanta and Executive Director of the Commission "Keep Atlanta Beautiful". "It was not such a big challenge for us."

Coca-Cola's 11-Year Plan

The Most Fragmented Approach – Distributing Funds to Different Groups That Support Individual Cities – "The Way for Coca-Cola to Improve Recycling" said Bruce Karas, vice president of environment and sustainability for Coca-Cola North America.

"If you take recycling and waste and say it's a national affair, you'll never solve it," he said. "It's a local problem." The company will be able to learn from the Atlanta program and find out how what works can be applied to other locations.

For Coca-Cola, turning away from China could be a good thing.

"We need to tap into the end markets here," Karas said. "It does not help us when it's on the other side of the world."

Coca-Cola plans to refine its goals based on what it learns from programs such as the Atlanta program.

"Right now, we're expanding our pilots," Karas said. "Every year we will be able to define what our goal would be," he said. Karas is confident that the company can achieve its goals by 2030.

Coca-Cola has also worked with the recycling partnership and other groups to strengthen infrastructure around the world. Later this year, Coca-Cola will launch a marketing campaign and local events designed to show people what recycled materials can be used for.

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