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Turning Waste Into Hip Stuff

Nov 4, 2012

The idea started with global music artist and producer will.i.am.

What would it take to make recycling ultra cool? And what would it take to make hip people buy recycled products?

Will.i.am created EKOCYCLE to edge consumers toward his dream of a world with zero waste. He planned to reach out to companies that would make cool products from used bottles and cans.

He then needed a way to get the word out across the globe by teaming with a partner who has international reach and a demonstrated record of encouraging recycling.

So he contacted The Coca-Cola Company.

Enter Coke

Backstage at a Black Eyed Peas concert in Atlanta, Georgia, two years ago, will.i.am met with Coca-Cola executives, including Bea Perez, now vice president and chief sustainability officer. She was enthralled with his plan and invited him to the company's headquarters in Atlanta.

There he wowed the room with his energy and dedication to making recycled plastic and cans into fresh and trendy items like headphones and jeans.

And a global movement was born.

Partners Join In

The first product was Beats by Dr. Dre. The high-end headphones from the rap legend's company are made from recycled bottles and now sell for $350. Another early product: New Era EKOCYCLE caps, which are also manufactured from recycled plastic bottles and retail for $45.

In October, will.i.am and Coca-Cola announced that even more brand partners had heeded their call for a social movement dedicated to producing more sustainable fashion-forward lifestyle products including Case-Mate, Levi's,  MCM and RVCA .

"Why does recycled stuff have to look ugly?" will.i.am asked at the launch. "Why can't it be the freshest stuff ever?”

Jeans From Plastic Bottles

“We have an ambition around zero waste,” says Perez, adding that EKOCYCLE and Coca-Cola are “shedding a real light on something that can be an ugly topic: waste."

She held up a plastic container of Coke, and asked: "Why can't this bottle instead of just being viewed as waste after you drink the Coca-Cola, be viewed as something really great and powerful that people want?”

EKOCYCLE's new products include:

Levi, Strauss & Co., which will offer limited-edition Levi's 501 Waste<Less jeans, made with an average of eight recycled plastic bottles, beginning in April 2013 and selling for $128.

Case-Mate Barely There Case, a translucent, glossy smartphone case made from 100 percent recycled PET plastic, which is now available for $35 at Best Buy stores in America and online.

EKOCYCLE plans to bring other brand partners in a variety of product categories on board.

“Is waste waste because we missed the opportunity to turn it into something else?” asked will.i.am at the program's October launch. “Why can't it be, 'That cool shoe, yo,' this is made out of bottles? And I always wondered how come people don't know about that."

The technology that turns plastic into fiber entails recycling PET bottles into flakes that are spun into fabric.

Earth911, the largest recycling directory in America with more than 1.5 million ways to turn trash into new products, is also partnering with EKOCYCLE by providing an interactive directory for the initiative.

Coke has also made a minimum commitment of $1 million over the next five years to support additional recycling and community improvement organizations, in addition to a commitment of 1 percent of the operating profits made through The Coca-Cola Foundation.

Why Coca-Cola Cares

Coca-Cola's involvement is part of the company's overall goal to encourage recycling and reuse of its packaging, according to communications manager Katherine Schermerhorn.

At Coke, we focus on the recovery, recycling and reuse of our packaging – whether back into new bottles, a pair of Levi’s jeans, or other consumer goods,” Schermerhorn says.

When will.i.am presented his dream to Coke, “he thought we could help engage consumers around the globe, bring his idea to life and help start a movement,” Schermerhorn says. “will.i.am wanted to bring products made from recycled content to consumers that were aspirational, yet attainable.”

Coke's licensing team is working with will.i.am to entice other brand partners to come onboard with additional innovative and desirable EKOCYCLE products.