Coca-Cola recently pledged $60 million to build recycling plants and other recycling initiatives. One of the plants, in Spartansburg, S.C., will be the world's largest bottle-to-bottle recycling plant -- meaning new bottles are made directly from old ones.
A nod to its fashion past
Coke has also decided to use recycled material, known as recycled polyethylene terephthalate, or RPET, in other ways. In the mid-1980s, Coke t-shirts, sweatshirts, miniskirts and even eyeglasses were all the rage. So, in a nod to its past but clearly conscious of a growing consumer backlash to plastic water bottles, the marketer is rolling out a line of RPET t-shirts with a recycling motif, like a glass bottle with an arrow swirling around it, with little branding other than a small, red Coca-Cola tab on the bottom of the right seam.
The line of t-shirts, designed by Coke and fabricated by Park City, Utah, Revolve Apparel Project, will launch in December at Fred Segal Melrose, an ultra-hip West Hollywood boutique.
"This is still pretty bleeding edge, but will soon become mainstream," Revolve CEO Joe Tomlinson said of recycled-plastic t-shirts. "The thread is still hard to get, but more and more companies are providing it." Revolve is a 2-year-old company that says is committed to sustainable apparel.
To make fabric, plastic bottles are shredded, distressed and turned into polyester thread. That thread is then blended with cotton. Patagonia makes some products from recycled plastic bottles, as well as a handful of high-fashion designers, such as Linda Loudermilk. Coke is the first true mass-market player in this segment, even though the line of t-shirts is likely to be very upscale.
A resource, not a waste
"We envision a world in which our packaging is no longer seen as a waste, but as a resource for future use," Kelli Sogar, Coke's licensing merchandise manager, said in a press release. "If everyone realized that returning five bottles made a cap or a t-shirt, we all might think twice before throwing them away. These products merge fashion with consciousness, reminding us all that small steps -- like recycling just a few bottles -- can help solve big problems."
Coke has wider recycling efforts under way, too.
In addition to recycling plants, the beverage giant has recently pledged $2 million to RecycleBank, a Philadelphia-based organization that offers rewards points based on the amounts households recycle, redeemable at a variety of stores, including Starbucks, Ikea and Whole Foods. Families that decide to donate their points to RecycleBank Green Schools or Ocean Conservancy will get matching funds from Coke. RecycleBank currently provides service in Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and will launch its service nationally in 2008.
"Through our additional investment in RecycleBank, we are fulfilling our commitment to advance economically viable approaches to recycling collection in the communities we serve," Scott Vitters, Coke's director of sustainable packaging, said in a release. "We believe this program will revolutionize the way consumers view their trash, from disposables to valuable reusables."