Every Olympic Athlete's New Shirt: Made of Recycled Coke Bottles

Coke PET bottles recycled t-shirts olympics beijing china greenwashing athletes coca-cola 2008

Photo: Kevin Tressler

Michael Phelps' swimsuit may not look too comfortable, but what about a T-shirt made of Coke bottles? The idea is hardly new, but it's never been put on so many influential backs before: every athlete at the Games in Beijing received a recycled plastic t-shirt from the Coca-Cola, in a bid to spread the word about recycling. And it needs spreading: only about 10 percent of its bottles are recycled now in the US, where some 25 million bottles are consumed every day.

Hoping to clean up its act, the company is aiming to get no less than 100 percent of those bottles in the US recycled back into food-safe plastic. They're also aiming to recycle every Coke bottle consumed on the Olympic Green, and have secured pledges from hundreds of athletes to recycle during the Games. The athletes' new shirts, composed of a blend of cotton and the polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, out of which Coke bottles are made, have been touted as keeping more than 200,000 plastic bottles – weighing roughly 6 tons – out of the waste stream.

Every little reminder to recycle counts, and getting reminders from some of the world's best athletes isn't a bad idea. But what if the T-shirts prove to be less recycling reminders than cool ads for Coke (thanks to blogs like this?)The front says simply "I'm From Earth" in red Helvetica -- probably a doubly useful message for people like Phelps and Usain Bolt -- and on the back are the small silhouettes of five bottles, the estimated number used to produce the shirt. Thankfully the Coke logo is tiny.

Still, if the shirts are simply ads for sustainability--or rather Coke's sustainablity program--would the problem be compounded? Imagine more of us buying more Coke (ni hao, China!), with the belief that the company is doing its part to help the environment, and with the added excuse that because they are doing so much, we the consumers don't need to do much more.

This is especially worrying here in China, where returnable glass Coke bottles are slowly disappearing as Coke eagerly looks to expand its market share for the plastic bottled variety.

The shirt is comfortable -- but is it too comfortable? In other words, what happens when gestures of corporate social responsibility replace actions of personal responsibility? To be sure, Coke seems to be taking sustainability more seriously than ever. And we love that the company is spreading the message, in a nice looking way. But are the shirts more than, if you will, pre-(green)washed?

Would love to hear your 20 oz below.

More on Coke and PET recycling on TreeHugger:

Greenwash Watch: Drink 2 Wear T-shirts From Coke Bottles, Bangladesh Turning PET Into Cash, Big Ben In Old Coke Cans Reminds Us To Recycle?, Bottles 2 Bags Recycled PET Makes Nifty Laptop Cases and Bags

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