The beverage container recycling arm of The Coca-Cola Company – Coca-Cola Recycling – is “winding down,” the company today confirmed.
When asked for comment, Sheree Robinson, communications manager for Coca-Cola North America, said “yes, we are winding down Coca-Cola Recycling, LLC” and offered the following statement:
The Coca-Cola Company’s current goal is to lead the industry in packaging sustainability including PlantBottle, reducing our packaging footprint and increasing recovery, and using recyclable materials. In the U.S., we will continue to work more directly with our value chain to increase the use of recycled materials. As the industry is evolving, we no longer need to directly engage in the buying and selling of recyclable materials. We are excited about the opportunities this will create and remain committed to broad-based sustainability initiatives in North America.
Coca-Cola remains committed to using recyclable materials in our packaging and advancing recycling. We are restructuring how we procure recyclable materials and will focus on developing our sources of supply. Coca-Cola will continue to work with our suppliers, customers and the industry to increase recycled content in our packaging.
Coca-Cola Recycling was active nationwide in the recovery and marketing of aluminum and PET beverage containers. On the aluminum side, the firm purchased used beverage cans (UBCs) for conversion into can sheet. Some of the firm’s UBC buyers were formerly employed by Anheuser-Busch in a similar arrangement designed to help control can sheet prices. Several UBC suppliers to Coca-Cola Recycling expect this side of the operation to continue for a short period due to existing supply and melting agreements.
Some observers say that the UBC market will become very interesting in the coming months. “What will Alcoa and Novelis do now, given the demise of their joint buying system [Evermore Recycling]?” said a West Coast supplier to Coca-Cola Recycling. “Will they become more active?”
Industry players say Coca-Cola Recycling was a central player in the UBC market and did not overpay for cans. “But they were always competitive,” one mid-size seller said.
Other aspects of Coca-Cola Recycling do not garner such positive reviews. The firm made what turned out to be an ill-advised investment in a PET reclamation plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Not only was the plant’s technology untested, the firm had an ambitious goal by wanting to produce food-grade recycled resin solely from curbside-collected PET bottles. A competitor in the Southeast said recently at a meeting of the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers that “Coke’s refusal to use some deposit-grade containers doomed the plant.”
In addition to seeking curbside-collected containers, Coca-Cola Recycling also targeted out-of-home cans and bottles. Until the recent decision to end the program, the company’s Reimagine Beverage Containers recycling centers employed reverse-vending machines to provide vouchers to consumers using the machines. Nonetheless, after four years, the system was only able to capture about 25,000 containers per day, and recently the company stated that “the pilot program is ending and we are closing the centers while we perform a detailed analysis of the results and determine our course of action moving forward.”
The company also noted its ongoing support of the Recycling Bin Grant Program, through which it partners with Keep America Beautiful, and the company said it “has placed more than 238,000 recycle bins in communities and customer locations across North America since 2008.”
Robinson further pointed out that the company joined the Walmart-led Closed Loop Fund “to help provide more Americans with access to recycling infrastructure, while decreasing the materials deposited in landfills.”