Coke Buys 50,000 Blue Carts for Chicago, Gets Bonus Advertising in City Alleys

Ah, recycling in Chicago. It’s a complex, tangled web our city’s leaders weave. The newest development? Soft-drink behemoth Coca-Cola will donate $2.6 million to purchase 50,000 more Blue Carts over the next five years for Chicago’s still-a-work-in-progress residential recycling program expansion.

coke-recycling-225x300If that sounds like a brilliant private-public partnership as well as a generous gesture from Coke, it may well be. Of course, there’s something sweet in the deal for the sponsor: the carts will sport images of Coca-Cola products in the diagrams instructing citizens how/what to recycle.

As this 23 April 2013 article in the Chicago Sun-Times reports:

Three years ago, [we] reported that more than 22,000 blue recycling carts with a price tag of $1 million were stashed away in a Far South Side warehouse because former Mayor Richard M. Daley bought them to make the citywide switch to blue cart recycling but ran out of money one-third of the way through.

Most of those stockpiled carts have now been distributed to homeowners. There are not enough left to support the citywide expansion.

On Monday, the Coca-Cola Co. and its philanthropic foundation gave Chicago an Earth Day gift of $2.6 million — enough to purchase 50,000 blue carts over the next five years. Half of those carts will be delivered this year, when Chicago expects to complete the long-awaited expansion.

Thousands of Blue Carts sat in a Chicago warehouse for two years, unused, because of lack of funding to distribute them.

In exchange for the $2.6 million grant, images of Coke products will appear on the 50,000 blue carts to show Chicago homeowners what items need to be recycled. That’s the equivalent of advertising for Coke.

The grant marks the third time in recent months that the soft-drink giant has bankrolled Chicago health, wellness and recycling programs.

Last fall, Coca-Cola and other beverage giants offered Chicago a $5 million carrot for wellness competition between city employees and San Antonio — along with calorie counts on vending machines — to avoid the stick: a tax on sugary beverages proposed by an influential alderman or a New York-style ban on oversized beverages. One month later, Coca-Cola agreed to bankroll a Chicago Park District program to offer nutrition education and exercise classes run by U.S. veterans to combat obesity and diabetes.

On Monday, Coca-Cola stepped up to the plate to help purchase the blue carts needed to deliver on Emanuel’s campaign promise to provide blue-cart recycling citywide.

“We changed garbage collection to a grid system. We took politics out and it drove $18 million in savings. That’s gonna [help] fund the expansion. Two, we started a [recycling] competition between Waste Management and Streets and Sanitation. And the price came down in that area,” Emanuel told a news conference at the Fernwood Park fieldhouse, 10436 S. Wallace. “And third, partners like Coca-Cola that are gonna end up over the years providing 50,000 blue canisters for everybody to recycle. This is gonna be helpful to us. I don’t have to ask the taxpayers for a single additional dollar.”

Sonya Soutus, Coca-Cola’s senior vice president for public affairs and communications, called the $2.6 million grant an “incredible way to be able to give back” to Chicago.

It also allows the company to “keep our pledge, which is to ensure that every bottle, plastic bottle and can in which our products are packaged and sold will find its way back into a recycling bin,” Soutus said.

Ald. George Cardenas (12th), chairman of the City Council’s Health Committee, has a pending proposal that calls for Chicago to follow the lead of 33 states that already impose a sale tax on sugary beverages. On Monday, Cardenas was asked how long Coca-Cola can continue to “buy its way out of” the more punitive approach.

“I wouldn’t call it continuing to buy themselves out of anything. This is good stuff. . . I have two daughters. I try to steer them away from soda to more healthy drinks. That’s part of what we have to do: educate. Certainly, the industry wants to be helpful in that,” Cardenas said.

“The tax is always gonna be there. If we see that things don’t change, the trends continue and our health is being impacted, then we have to act on that,” he said. “As a last resort, then you start banning [soda] from machines. But it’s a little hypocritical to start banning [and taxing] without even working on solutions. . . . I’d rather work with companies to get something done.”

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