The Coca-Cola Foundation is providing funding to help tackle the world’s plastic waste problem one community at a time, starting with an innovative recycling program in its own backyard.

The Foundation awarded $5.4 million in charitable grants to The Recycling Partnership, The GreenBlue Institute, Keep Houston Beautiful, The Conservation Corps of Long Beach and the Fund for Boston Parks and Recreation to fund community recycling pilots in Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Essex County (N.J.), Houston, Long Beach (Calif.) and Orange County (Fla.). In each city, grant recipients will partner with city governments and environmental organizations to boost recycling rates and help inspire a grassroots movement.

Recycling has been a longstanding priority of The Coca-Cola Foundation, the global philanthropic arm of The Coca-Cola Company, which has supported organizations like Keep America Beautiful for over a decade.

“Our global giving priorities focus on areas where we have the ability to make the biggest impact on sustainable communities through both our funding and the collective skills and expertise of Coca-Cola employees,” said Carlos Pagoagoa, group director, community partnerships, The Coca-Cola Foundation. “In each pilot city, local partners will work together to identify barriers to recycling on a local level and test a range of solutions. We hope the learnings from these ‘model markets’ can offer solutions to other cities facing similar challenges.”

'In each pilot city, local partners will work together to identify barriers to recycling on a local level and test a range of solutions. We hope the learnings from these ‘model markets’ can offer solutions to other cities facing similar challenges.' 

Thanks to funding from The Coca-Cola Foundation, The Recycling Partnership and the City of Atlanta will dispatch street teams to every zip code to “tip” open recycling carts and “tag” them with cards informing residents about what they can and can’t recycle, and to let them know how they’re doing.

The goal? To measurably improve recycling rates and reduce recycling contamination so Atlanta can become a city without packaging waste.

“Two of the most pressing issues with recycling in the U.S. today are lack of access, followed by contamination in the recycling stream,” said Keefe Harrison, CEO, The Recycling Partnership. “We know from our successful 2017 Atlanta pilot that the city’s residents want to recycle, and that communicating with them at the cart works. We also know that partnerships are key to driving recycling system change and a more circular economy, which is why we are excited to work together with the City of Atlanta and The Coca-Cola Foundation to transform recycling for good in the city.”

Recycling Pilots

The Atlanta project is an extension of a Coca-Cola North America-funded recycling education pilot from The Recycling Partnership. The 2017 project, which reached 5,000 households in four neighborhoods, sparked a 27% increase in recycling participation and a 57% reduction in overall recycling contamination. The new grant will expand the program to an additional 100,000 households over the next three years.

“Recycling is not top of mind for everyone, so clear and concise information is critical,” explains Cody Marshall, chief community strategy officer, The Recycling Partnership. “During the pilot, we distributed postcards to homes and spoke directly with residents. Now, we will amplify this model across all zip codes and supplement our outreach with signage around the city and social media messaging. We want to reach as many people in as many places as possible.”

The Coca-Cola Company is a founding partner of The Recycling Partnership, which applies funding, resources and technical assistance to cities.

“We connect with city programs to understand what they need, then provide resources, expertise and tools to help their local recycling programs thrive,” Marshall said. “Coca-Cola truly understands that in order for a healthy recycling system to thrive, we need to work with local governments.”

'Two of the most pressing issues with recycling in the U.S. today are lack of access, followed by contamination in the recycling stream. We know from our successful 2017 Atlanta pilot that the city’s residents want to recycle, and that communicating with them at the cart works.'

The Coca-Cola Foundation grant also will support recycling programs for multi-family properties like apartment complexes and college campuses in Atlanta. More than half of Atlanta’s population lives in multi-family housing, where recycling rates are traditionally lower than in single-family homes served by government-supported curbside recycling programs. In apartment and condo complexes, property managers are responsible for providing recycling bins.

The Recycling Partnership will work with Atlanta Recycles, the Georgia Recycling Coalition and the Atlanta Apartment Association to connect with property owners and learn what has worked and what hasn’t, then test various strategies starting this summer and fall.

“Recycling is an issue that cannot be solved at a national level,” explains Bruce Karas, vice president, environment and sustainability, Coca-Cola North America. “Wrapping our arms around the challenge at the local level is how we will make measurable progress. The collaborative solutions that are being testing in these pilot markets can be transferrable. Everyone involved – bottlers, partners, government leaders and peer companies – is excited to participate in this journey.”

World Without Waste

The Coca-Cola Company has a long history of supporting recycling infrastructure and programs across the country. Over the past decade, Coca-Cola North America has helped place more than 1 million recycling bins in more than 2,000 communities and invested more than $12 million to support improved recycling infrastructure.

Last year, The Coca-Cola Company announced a global goal to create a “World Without Waste” by collecting and reusing the equivalent of a bottle or can for each one it sells; increasing  the amount of recycled materials it uses in its products to 50% by 2030 and designing all of its packaging to be fully recyclable by 2025.

To do this, Coca-Cola is working to increase recycling collection rates by simplifying the recycling ecosystem and by illustrating the potential good that can be created from a recycled bottle or cans.

“The projects we’re participating in are focused on making a measurable impact. With each project, we’re looking for learning that can be applied in other markets across the country,” Karas said. “Atlanta is already in a good position to become a model recycling city other city can follow.”