Zero waste is one of the most exciting ideas to emerge from the environmental movement, and it won a powerful new supporter yesterday in the Coca-Cola Co., which set a long-term goal of having every bottle it sells in the U.S. recycled or reused. In another bit of welcome news for the zero-waste movement, a new report from NGOâ€™s Forest Ethics and the Dogwood Alliance gives high marks to office supply stores Staples and FedExKinkos for using more post-consumer recycled content.
Zero waste means what it saysâ€”that we can strive for a world where nothing is thrown away, where anything thatâ€™s no longer needed becomes feedstock for new stuff. Itâ€™s not merely about reducing waste; itâ€™s about eliminating the very idea of waste. We called it The End of Garbage last spring in FORTUNE.
At a news conference in Washington, Coca-Cola announced that it will help build the worldâ€™s largest plastic bottle-to-bottle recycling plant in Spartanburg, N.C., at a cost of about $45 million, in conjunction with a big private firm called United Resource Recovery Corp. The plant will open next year; it will produce about 100 million pounds of food-grade recycled PET for reuse each year, the equivalent of making nearly two billion 20-ounce Coke bottles. The company said it will open regional recycling centers as well.
Coke’s plastic bottles currently contain about 10% recycled PET. The company has a goal of 30% by 2010. It didnâ€™t set a target date for its 100% goalâ€”but merely promising to move in that direction means the company can and will be held accountable.
â€œCoca Cola has staked a clear leadership position in its approach to sustainable packaging,â€ said Kate Krebs, executive director of the National Recycling Coalition. â€œI hope other industries will follow.â€
Coca Cola is also expanding its investment in Recycle Bank, a for-profit company that aims to drive up recycling rates by, in effect, paying people to put more stuff in their recycle bins. Recycle Bank’s curbside recycling programs in Philadelphia, New Jersey and Delaware have driven up recycling rates substantially. Are you surprised? if you reward people for recycling, with discount coupons that can be used at Starbucks or Whole Foods, theyâ€™ll respond. Recycle Bank plans a national rollout by 2009.
Recycling, as you probably know, saves energy, raw materials and curbs greenhouse gas emissions. But for the economics of recycling to work, we need to drive up both the inputs (more stuff in the recycle bin, less in the trash) and the demand for products made with recycled content.
Thatâ€™s where the office stores come in. They more they promise to stock, promote and sell recycled paper, the more demand that creates; of course, the demand will only be sustained if organizations and individuals buy more recycled paper.
That seems to be happening. Forest Ethics and Dogwood Alliance, in their â€œreport cardâ€ on the paper practices of the office supply sector, say that recycled pulp mills enjoyed record-high demand in 2005. They give an A grade to Staples, which has achieved a 30% average of post-consumer recycled content when all product tonnage is included, and says it wants to get to 50%. FedExKinkos also â€œmeets or exceeds ambitious goalsâ€ for post-recycled content and gets a B+ grade. Office Max and Corporate Express are the industry laggards, in recycling as well as other environmental metrics.
This kind of progress is driven by activism, and by the willingness of big companies to listen, engage and reform. You can learn more by reading the Forest Ethics and Dogwood Alliance press release or downloading their full report. Cokeâ€™s announcement can be found here. I’ll have more to say about the zero-waste movement in a couple of weeks from the National Recycling Coalition’s annual convention in Denver.