Coca-Cola helps local educators and businesses recycle
by By CHRISTY ARMSTRONG Banner Staff Writer
May 26, 2013 | 418 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Coca-Cola Recycle
DEBBIE MILLARD, operations clerk and corporate responsibility champion at Coca-Cola Refreshments, stands by a set of recycling bins near where the bottling plant’s truck drivers park their rigs. She said promoting recycling among the company’s own employees is what led to the plant’s school recycling program to promote the practice within the community.
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Consumers may think of Coca-Cola as an indirect waste creator because of all the bottles and cans that end up needing to be thrown away after the soda is long gone. But the local bottling plant has been undergoing efforts to promote recycling in both its own facility and in local schools and businesses.

Debbie Millard, operations clerk and corporate responsibility champion at Cleveland’s Coca-Cola Refreshments, said her workplace has come a long way.

In 2008, Coca-Cola started an environmental sustainability initiative called “Target 100” at the corporate level which gave bottling plans the goal of becoming 100 percent landfill free. She said the local bottling was only recycling 40 percent of the waste it produced. That meant the rest was sent to a landfill.

“We were sending 100,000 pounds each month,” Millard said.

Now that number is between 2,000 and 6,000 pounds per month, she said, adding that the plant will continue to try to lower that number.

When the plant’s recycling program first started, employees were trained on the importance of doing so instead of throwing everything away. Recycling bins of various sizes and types were then place throughout the plant — from employee offices and break rooms to the fleet shop to the areas near the bottling and canning lines.

A new job was also created at the plant; one employee’s responsibility is to collect recycling. There is also a truck driver whose work is dedicated to the program

Those efforts added up to subtract thousands of pounds from the loads the plant had to have taken to the landfill.

Millard said that motivation to recycle eventually spilled out into the community.

Coca-Cola participated in Cleveland State Community College’s annual event “It’s All About The Green” in 2009, and the college approached the company asking for help recycling plastic bottles on campus. Millard said they did help with that, and it grew from there.

“We decided we would start a recycling program with them,” Millard said. “That’s how the school program got started.” 

Not long afterward, Walker Valley High School heard about Coca-Cola’s efforts to help Cleveland State recycle and wanted to be involved too. Millard said she approached plant manager Bradley Jordan with the idea, and it was a go.

The Coca-Cola school recycling program currently involves 20 schools of all grade levels — from elementary to college. It has also grown to include 15 businesses, four nonprofit organizations and one church that take part in the program to recycle and help local schools at the same time.

Schools in the program are provided with large recycling containers to collect paper, cardboard, aluminum, P.E.T. plastic bottles and other materials. Teachers and staff collect recycables from throughout the school and sort them.

Millard said the schools are also allowed to encourage students’ parents to take their household recyclables to the school since Cleveland and Bradley County do not offer curbside recycling pickup.

Once the containers are full, schools can schedule a time for a Coca-Cola driver to pick up the recyclables at no charge to the school. The driver weighs the recyclables back at the bottling plant, and schools earn credit for each pound of waste they have recycled. Staff at each school can then redeem the credits they earn for rewards of either recycled copy paper or live flowers, trees or shrubs.

Millard said the most popular reward has been the reams of copy paper because that means schools do not have to budget for the expense of having to buy so much of it for their offices.

However, she also said she is aware of several schools that have taken advantage of the free plants. For example, she said Cleveland High School used some of the plants earned in its recycling program when it created a sensory garden for special education students.

Businesses and other organizations can also take part. Coca-Cola will drop off and pick up the recycling containers just as it does for schools. The difference, she said, is the way points are awarded and redeemed. Businesses can choose up to three schools in the community they want to help. The credit that comes from the materials the businesses recycle go to each of those schools for them to redeem.

She said the program has proved to be a “win-win,” helping promote recycling in the community by offering people more chances to do so and also making financial sense for Coca-Cola.

Millard said it is actually more expensive to send waste from the plant to a landfill than it is to recycle it.

“We save almost $29,000 a year — plus we get the revenue made from the recyclables,” Millard said.

The local bottling plant spent $34,000 in landfill costs in 2008, but only $5,100 in 2012.

She said those higher up in the company have taken notice of the program, which she said was the first of its kind at any U.S. Coca-Cola bottling plant.

“We had nothing to model this by” Millard said. “Corporate is considering implementing this throughout North America in cities like Cleveland that don’t have curbside recycling.”