Posted by: graemelaidlaw | March 14, 2010

Product life

Our lectures this week were about product life-spans and the impact that manufacturing items have on the environment.  I’ve decided to try and discover the product life of a bottle of coca cola, the devil’s milk!

Bottle:  Most plastic bottles are made from polyethylene terephtalate (PET) plastic, and almost all of the plastic come from virgin plastic; an estimated 30% of the world’s PET goes into plastic bottles.  Coke has a goal of using 25% re-cycled plastic in its bottles in Europe by next year. The plastic bottles must be sterilized so that they are safe for beverages, and then they are filled, capped, labelled, packed into cases, and prepared for shipping. Coke has stated that packaging is responsible for 30-70% of the drinks carbon footprint, with plastic bottles being between the less energy intensive aluminium cans and the high intensity glass bottles

Contents: Coke contains water, sugar, caffeine, phosphoric acid, coca extract as well as vanilla, cinnamon and kola nut flavourings. 

Coke used over 283 billion litres of fresh water worldwide in 2004, 63% of which (178 billion litres) became waste water. Communities across India have become enraged that Coca-cola bottling plants are depleting groundwater reservoirs in areas which are facing water shortages.

All coke products contain 68g of sugar per bottle.  None of the sugar is organically grown and therefore uses large amounts of pesticides during the growing process.  A large amount of energy is used processing the sugar cane. A 2004 report by WWF, titled “Sugar and the Environment,” shows that sugar may be responsible for more biodiversity loss than any other crop, due to its destruction of habitat to make way for plantations, its intensive use of water for irrigation, its heavy use of agricultural chemicals, and the polluted wastewater that is routinely discharged in the sugar production process.

Coke is flavoured with coca extract which is derived from spent coca leaves which have been through a cocaine extraction process

Shipping: The Coca-Cola Company only produces syrup concentrate which is then sold to various bottlers throughout the world In Ireland’s case the bottling plant is in Drogheda.  The syrup and the empty bottles are imported however.  All the coke products in Ireland are therefore distributed from Drogheda by road. 

Shops: The coke image ‘enjoy ice-cold’ means that it is always contained in fridges.  Many of the fridges in shops are open fronted and highly energy consumptive. 

Post consumption: Once the bottle of coke has been purchased it will usually be consumed within a very short period of time. It then has three possible fates: it may be reused, recycled, or thrown away. Despite the fact that most plastic bottles are made from PET plastic and this plastic is very easy to recycle, recycling rates for plastic bottles are actually very low, globally. Anywhere between 15-35% of plastic bottles make their way into recycling facilities, depending on the region, with the rest ending up in landfills or as litter. Many people believe that re-use, followed by recycling, is the best use for a plastic bottle.

Coke has stated that 0.46MJ are used for every litre of coca-cola produced, with each can embodying the equivalent of 170g of CO2. The coca-cola company says that it appreciates its environmental responsibilities and it attempting to improve its energy efficiency although it is unclear whether this is a case of green-washing.  The true cost of the product goes beyond the environmental impact, as the social impact of the product is only now becoming clear as children weaned on fizzy drinks are now showing signs of diabetes and other health problems on an alarming scale.




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