Can 10 Million Green Vending Machines Keep Coke Cool?


Photo wblj @ flickr.
Coke has announced that it will turn all of its 10 million vending machines worldwide hydrofluorocarbon-free by 2015. This is a major, ambitious move, as those machines emit 15 million tons of greenhouse gases annually and comprise 40% of Coke's carbon footprint. Ironically, by switching to using carbon dioxide as the gas in vending machines rather than more carbon-intensive hydrofluorocarbons, the company expects to save as much as 53 million tons of CO2 emissions over a 10-year-period, according to this Reuters story. And Coke is launching its PlantBottle in selected markets, and plans to make 2 billion of them by the end of next year.

Yet all is not green in Coca-Cola-landia.

Take another look at the next-to-last sentence. The one about the 2 billion bottles. While you've got to laud Coke for trying to make a difference, this is the same type of unreality that exists in the bottled water industry. PlantBottle, according to Coke, turns sugar cane and molasses into a key component that allows PET plastic to be about 30% plant based. Coke says PlantBottle is fully recyclable along with other PET.

Part of the reason Coke is seeking other alternatives to oil-derived PET is because of cost, according to Cleantech. Coke has also stated that by 2025 (16 years from now) its bottles will have 25% recycled PET in them.

But two billion bottles a year is a lot of bottles - and that's just one of the major companies! If the bottles are from virgin oil, there's the non-renewable aspect of the base material. If they are recycled PET, the huge water footprint (not to mention collection and transport costs) of the recycling process is also ultimately unsustainable. If they became biodegradable plastic, we need to have facilities in place to actually biodegrade the material - and worry that we might be taking up too much agricultural land growing bottles.

To add to that the need to ship those individual plastic bottles around and put them into a big box of cold, a vending machine, seems like old-style thinking.

What would be much cooler is if Coke starting thinking of ways to turn their product, whether water, soda, or juice, into a product service system. Instead of selling us a bottle, sell us a way to quench our thirst.

Where's the BYOB?
Entrepreneurs Mike Deu and Chris Meyer are on the right track. After seeing the constant waste generated by both the bottles and the vending machines on their college campus, they came up with EcoStream, basically a bring your own container drink dispenser. Wouldn't you like to see those in the airport, mall, and schools instead of the perennial trash-creating alternative? Give us your views in comments.

Read more about Coke's initiatives at TreeHugger:
Coke's New Green Vending Machines: "Like Taking 218,000 Cars Off the Road For Two Weeks"
Top Stories on Tonic:Say No to Tuna, Yes to Coke
Coca-Cola Recycling Initiative Helps Green Get Stylish

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