This article on AdAge.com came to my attention yesterday and I wanted to share it with this community because it represents a great opportunity to talk about the merits of upcycling as a strategy for reducing waste.
It announces Coke’s new 2nd Lives campaign just introduced in Asia. 2nd Lives gives consumers 16 alternative caps enabling them to repurpose their Coca-Cola plastic bottles into an array of upcycled options including paintbrushes, spray cleaners, lamps and toys. (It doesn’t encourage relabeling the bottles, however.)
There’s Upcycling and Then There’s Upcycling
I’m all for upcycling and repurposing and in fact, stories about many such projects have been featured on this website. Upcycling represents a viable alternative in a full portfolio of solutions to solid waste, especially in its ability to give consumers a creative outlet and to help them save time and money.
However, Coke’s 2nd Lives campaign raises some important issues in my mind, not the least of which is product safety: will children mistake a Coke bottle with paint or cleaning fluid in it for ‘the real thing’?
Coke 2nd Lives: Diverting Attention from Real Solutions?
Concern is being expressed in the environmental community that some forms of recycling and other ‘pitch in’ efforts merely divert consumers from real solutions including bottle bills, refillability, and alternatives to petroleum based plastics. (In this vein, I highly recommend Samantha MacBride’s Recycling Reconsidered (MIT Press, 2011), pictured here.)
How to Do Upcycling of Soda Bottles Right?
What do you all think? Am I missing something here about the potential safety issues? Is there a positive role for upcycling and repurposing of soda and other plastic bottles? I’m reminded of how Terracycle packaged worm castings in repurposed soda bottles, thus sparking the upcycling revolution (a business they have since sold). And way back when Welch’s jelly came in little jars that could be repurposed for juice glasses. What other ideas for upcycling and repurposing might be consistent with sustainability?
EDITOR’S NOTE: SOMETIME AFTER THE PUBLICATION OF THIS POST, COKE REMOVED ALL VIDEOS FOR THIS CAMPAIGN FROM YOUTUBE. THEY WOULD NOT RETURN OUR TELEPHONE CALLS FOR COMMENT.
Lets face it: Packaging reuse campaigns like this, that are primarily novelty-lid, are a bit dumb really – particularly for high volume packaging like beverage bottles. Not only do they distract from the real issues, but can potentially divert valuable raw materials from a a recycling stream. I think we’re past this now
The Video is troubling on so many levels – starting with the introduction of yet more plastic to convert the bottles and the packaging that’s involved. Most alarming is the suggestion that reusing the bottles for food delivery is safe when it’s well known that these plastics break down and have never been intended for mulitiple food/beverage delivery usage.
Aside from the safety implications, which are certainly concerning, I have some serious mixed feelings about this campaign. On one hand Coca-Cola is encouraging the reuse of its bottles, which on the surface is nice. On the other hand, though, at the end of the day Coke is just producing more plastic which will eventually become waste. We need to move forward beyond plastic, not just find ways to be clever with the plastic we are already making. Perhaps their intentions are good, but as has often been said: the road to hell is paved with good intentions. What we in general, and Coke in particular, need to do is to find ways to stop creating more virgin plastic.
One question I have in particular about this is the following: what does Coke expect people to do with the caps that come on the bottle? I didn’t see any reuse for them in Coke’s video and most are not recyclable. They tend to end up in places like this… http://www.npr.org/…/how-soda-caps-are-killing-birds
Swing & Miss! This slick, but unfortunate attempt on Coke’s part to communicate management of an important social issue is a surreptitious and dangerous attempt to greenwash the issue of plastic bottles. In the end, it all continuous to pile up in a big garbage patch in the ocean, uses significant energy, and contributes to GHG emissions.
Let’s face it – Coke has issues. Market demand for their product (High fructose syrup & water) in the developed countries has been shrinking so investments to tap into the developing world are accelerating. Unfortunately, all the marketing and CSR efforts can’t help overcome that they are:
1) diverting significant amounts of essential water resources in “at risk” regions AMEA, ASIA, etc.
2) providing a product with no nutritional (or social) value, and that some would argue contribute to harmful side effects like obesity, in areas where nutrition is an issue.
3) Now trying to divert wealth, in the form of revenue and profits, out of poor communities for the benefit of corporate shareholders.
Don’t get me wrong – I drink Coke. But I do not live in sub-Sahara Africa or Asia where they face these issues. I also choose to drink the one 8 oz. aluminum (recyclable) cans (which is still 95 calories) – all those 16oz bottles being sucked down in the end are not helping our children or environment.
While I understand the points made by previous commenters, I actually like what Coke is doing in Asia, especially where recycling facilities may not be readily available. Those consumers deserve the right to enjoy an occasional Coke (just as we did and do). The bottle cap kits enable them to re-think, re-use and get additional utility from the bottles (the way we used to when our society was more frugal). Don’t we want consumers to reduce (buy less) and then reuse (including new uses) items before recycling them? I bought a smaller kit like that years ago, and still use one of the spout attachments to turn an empty plastic milk bottle into a watering can for my plants. As a universal set, the cap doesn’t fit perfectly and occasionally leaks, so it would have been good to have one specifically designed for my milk bottle. And I like many of the other uses shown in the video (e.g., painting, barbells!). I don’t think it will necessarily sell more Coke, but it generates goodwill and does keep the bottles in use and out of the waste stream. And the upbeat nature of the campaign and the creativity it demonstrates may “catch on” and make re-use of containers and other items more socially acceptable. (You could even say that the Coke campaign fits the Easy, Fun, Popular prescription for nudging behavioral change that I described in a post elsewhere on this WHTW site.) Wouldn’t mind such a campaign here in the U.S. to help consumers think “out of the box” (or other container)and beyond the disposable bottle.
I was already disturbed by this campaign. But now that the safety implications have been highlighted, especially where children are concerned (potentially confusing a cleaning product in the upcycled version for a drinkable beverage because both wear the same label), I abhor this idea even more. I used to drink Coke when I didn’t know any better. I’m smarter now (http://www.collective-evolution.com/2013/09/22/what-happens-to-our-body-after-drinking-coca-cola/). Sorry, Coke. You’ve got the Profit going for you, but you still don’t have People or Planet in mind.
wow. Ingenious. Sneaky. Profiting from selling an unhealthy beverage, reuse the bottles with the coke logo still on the side (still selling the coke brand) and sell the variety of plastic lids which are likely only useable on the coke bottles plus profiting from manufacturing more oil-based plastic). Good for Coke. Bad for planet. I’ll pass. In fact I’ll pass from drinking coke — or any soft drink at all anymore. Good for me. Good for planet. Bad for coke. Ha-Ha-Ha!
Unless these red caps are coming from recycled material (which I can’t find the answer to anywhere), then I see this completely as a marketing campaign for Coke with no actual consideration for the environment. In reality they are probably creating even more plastic than they would be without these new caps. It is just a way to keep the Coke brand top of mind at all times. If anyone has found info anywhere about the new caps being from recycled material, please let me know.
Of course there’s an issue with children taking a drink of what could turn out to be the Grama’s insecticide! I cringed at that scene!
But the real issue is that recycling is not the answer. Plastic is forever, no matter what it’s being used for, so if there is an alternative method of *delivering a drink*, which is the real purpose of the plastic, that’s what we should be aiming for. This is the theme in Cradle To Cradle (Braugart & McDonough, 2002) a book which suggest we change how we view everything. Anyone reading this post who has not read it – drop what you’re doing and order it now.
Once we get that every product we consume exists to deliver some benefit to us, then we can figure out some new way to improve on the delivery method and save this planet from our mountains of waste.
Well, it is Asia and Vietnam, so people are going to do all kinds of stranger things than even the commercial suggests. I once was fishing in the Florida Keys with my brother when his boat engine died. We had live fish for bait, but no way to fish (while we were waiting for a tow, which took hours). I unscrewed an empty smaller plastic Coke bottle, screwed the cap back on with my line in the threads, and got an instant bobber. Didn’t catch anything though. I think the point of the commercial is to think outside the box. Coke is doing that with biobased plastic and by partnering with SodaStream. Maybe they should think about selling their bottles with a set of labels to paste over the Coke labela and a DIY booklet about reusing the bottles.
At the end of the day, no one is going to upcycle every single plastic bottle they purchase. The person that drinks a Coke everyday – or even every two days – will have stockpiles of these 2nd life paintbrushes and squirt guns, and then what?. Eventually they are going to have to get rid of the bottles. This campaign, while admirable in that it encourages somewhat sustainable behavior, is the proverbial band-aid for the bullet hole.
– the intention of this video clip looks more like a campaign for Coke than a sincere interest in dealing with the issue of plastic bottles. Every shot shows and positions the Coke logo.
– as mentioned above: more plastic and packaging is created for these supposed efforts. Are the new screw-ons of recycled content? Are they easily degradable?
– to feature the usage of ‘old’ Coke bottles for paint, cleaning solutions, shampoo etc is insane. For one, children could not understand what is actually in the bottle and try to drink it and two, the contamination level of pouring from one plastic container into a Coke bottle is extremely high.
– a real thinking outside of the box needs to have substance and really change people’s thinking and educate on our current resources, our own developed threats to ourselves etc.
– this campaign is too shallow for me.
I don’t like this campaign. It encourages people to drink more coke and Coke to produce more plastic. The campaign is misleading and does not educate people on the real issues at stake.
A large company profiting from upcycling is a step in the right direction. However, any food use from a standard plastic bottle is dangerous and prohibited in the U.S. This is due to PCB and various other BPA contaminants which act as a synthetic estrogen in many cases. I can source this information if anyone wants to know. Coke is probably selling these products to Asian countries for various reasons, but lack of regulation is surely on the top of that list.
As Valerie pointed out Coke is breaking an important rule of green marketing Transparency. No one on this thread has been able to find out if the material is recyclable, which could easily cause bad press for Coke. More importantly though Coke could potentially be harming the peoples of asia.
If I was the CEO of coke tomorrow I would research the feasibility of making the plastic bottles from safer plastic and selling these products everywhere. If the caps were made of recycled plastic or some kind of sustainable material this could be a really innovative and effective green idea.
According to the Products & Packaging FAQ’s accessible from this page of the Coke website, http://www.coca-colacompany.com/contact-us/
“The closures we use on bottles are 100 percent recyclable from a technical standpoint and highly recycled. They are made from high-density materials selected for their compatibility with most recycling systems…”
Not a bad partial solution-anyone think that ALL bottles could be reused ??
How convenient to have all of those Coke labels all over the place on the reused bottles-omnipresent ads to spur people to replace healthier drinks (water…?) w/ sugar water-great for health ! Puleeaaze !
What struck me first in this ad is that over 95% of the reuses showcased here are irrelevant, i.e. unneeded: Are you going to empty out your shampoo plastic bottle to reuse a Coke bottle instead? Same applies to paint, and really to any cleaning, home, personal care or even food (beverage) products. With a special mention for the last category: If you’re mixing something and making your own drink, use a glass container. No food or drinks should be consumed in reused plastic (eating or drinking in plastic the first time around is bad enough). The only exception might be the plant water spray, yet again, what % of the population uses that and if they love their plants and do, they probably didn’t wait for Coke’s great lightbulb moment to buy one. Wondering how much they charge for the kit. As if people are going to buy this…
There are so many wrongs with this ad and Coke’s soda to begin with that I struggle to find anything good. Goodwill maybe? A step in the right direction, gaining awareness of their share of plastic waste? If Coke really wants to spend brand money and buy themselves a good image in Asia, AND make families happy (per the ad), there are so many issues to be prioritized over reusing of Coke plastic bottles frankly… Education, hygiene, enough food, environmental safety….
From a CSR perspective, it is Coke’s (dare I say) moral responsibility to deal with waste from their products. Absolutely also the responsibility of consumers but if Coke had a susty packaging to begin with… If they sell in places where there’s no recycling facilities in place, then it comes back to them. Who else?
Now for more constructive comments, how about they sell (heavily if they want to) branded glass containers, big and small and start selling their soda in soda fountain types of delivery systems? Whether we’re talking vending machines or even in store. Stop wasting your brand dollars Coke, and be bold, as in useful, you would get recognition for that: Start a new way to enjoy Coke, have consumers buy it in bulk in their own container, that you’ll have sold them. At least we’ll get rid of plastic. If it was me though, I’d say phase out Coke and focus on a new healthy beverage. Dreaming is always an option 🙂
In my opinion, these “conversion” caps DO fill real needs. People can buy products like shampoo, lotions or cleaners in larger, more economical sizes (or better yet make their own), and put them in individual, easier to handle squeeze or spray bottles. The paintbrush cap turns a bottle into a refillable alternative to “magic markers” (which are expensive and cannot be recycled), and is shown in a controlled school setting (so we can assume the kids are not drinking it). The shaker and squeeze tops are ideal for cooks who like to make their own seasoning mixes or sauces, or who buy in bulk. They can add their own labels. And the pencil sharpener makes that chore neater and more fun.
With respect to substituting glass for plastic, how many of US would be willing to lug glass bottles home from the store? And I don’t think carbonated beverages can be bought in bulk and keep the fizz.
Interesting idea here, but one has to think about the extra waste created when the novelty runs out. At the very least, the new caps should be made from recycled plastic, as well as the blister pack they came in. In the end, this does not address the issues of scale and transformation that needs to happen across societies, with companies, governments, and individuals, about really creating a serious recycling program that “Captures the Gold” which is inherent in this material if economies of scale are created. With no value on the back-end at the individual level, they become waste. The margins in this business are big, and there is clearly room for deposit/reward programs which would start that economic cycle churning, in any country they are introduced in. Now PET has many secondary uses, when before it did not, so there is no excuse to create a new dynamic model for capturing this “gold.”
People interested in this discussion may like the 3rd annual Plasticity Forum, this year in NYC on June 24th, about the future of plastic, and where the leaders are going with design, innovation, materials, recycling, and solutions, so there is a world, without the plastic footprint. http://bit.ly/PlasticityNYC
While I think this approach is a way to rethink how we can reuse and repurpose waste. I think it misses the general idea of what repurposing waste does. The idea of repurposing is to take waste and create something with it that will be long lasting. Unfortunately, many of these alternative uses that Coke provides here don’t incentivize this long-term use. Since soda bottles can easily deteriorate and get punctured they will need to be replaced. But where do these damaged bottles go? Granted this is Coke’s real intention to generate more brand awareness through using their labels and creating a product that will rely on more Coke purchases.
In addition to not being the most proper consideration of repurposing and waste reduction, this idea can be possibly damaging to local economies of Vietnam. As local business owners who may sell soap, paint or plant watering devices may lose out on these types of exchanges as these Coke 2nd Life kits are given out for free.
Coke should be spending more time on how their bottles can be recycled in these countries. But even more important is that they should consider 1) how they can create a bottle with compostable plastic and 2) how they can assist the waste systems of the municipalities they sell to and cut down their costs by producing bottles with reused plastic from their own products. Ultimately, there needs to be more efforts in creating closed loop systems of waste.
A friend shared this – http://huff.to/1jPO0Zf – with me on facebook. It’s about a non-profit that repurposes/upcycles plastic bottles into roofing in countries like Ecuador. It’s pretty amazing work they do which helps create jobs and also reuse plastic. However, while both this and Coke’s programs may be clever ways to repurpose our plastic waste they are both not solutions to the underlying problem. Neither will curb the need for companies to produce more virgin plastic and that is where I believe we need to focus our efforts. There is a reason “Reduce” is the first “R” but it seems like companies hardly put their focus there.
I’m going to echo a lot of what’s already been said- while the intention maybe novel or innovative, in practice I think it will just maintain the status-quo. Unless the manufactures of paint/cleaning products are using Coca Cola bottles, there’s still plastic waste. You’re really just transferring the product from one container to another.
I agree that there are huge safety concerns with not relabeling the bottles in some way- if Coke wants to promote a better quality of life, they need to market that to their consumers in every way.
Overall this seems like a post-manufacturing band aid to the bigger problem of our addiction to petroleum products and the lack of infrastructure (in this case in Vietnam) to properly dispose of recyclable material.
If you really want to see how to repurpose a PET bottle the ultimate way check out the website and video for our unique bottle system that allows you to create any number of useful storage containers for your home at: http://www.unlesswater.com
It seems almost inevitable that anything Coca-Cola does will have some backfire. With large companies like Coke, it can be hard to feel that their campaigns can be genuinely good-natured. In essence and idea this is great to me. Like what several others have commented, it is pushing people to think outside the box, which is extremely important to upcycling and repurposing items. A better campaign may have given ways to reuse a higher volume of bottles since even if you bought the whole set of attachments, you’d have repurposed 16 bottles out of how many millions/billions are sold in those areas. I’ve also seen coke bottles filled with water used as a method of dispersing light in small homes in areas where there is no electricity. A hole is cut in the roof of a metal roof and the bottle is fitted halfway into the hole. Light is refracted through the water and creates a fair amount of illumination in what could otherwise be a dark abode. Rather than the answer to a problem, this should be seen as a stepping stone for innovation by people to think outside the box.
For more on Pepsi’s “Liter of Light” campaign referenced by Willie, including a video showing how it works: