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The History of the Environmental Effects of Coca-Cola

As Coca-Cola began a small company, its growth into a successful franchise not only altered the current beverage market, but also the environment as well. Developed by Dr. John Pemberton in 1886, the syrup was mixed with carbon-dioxide and sold out of a local pharmacy in Atlanta, Georgia. As national growth expanded with the company moving locations 5 times within 12 years, it also hit international markets, with the opening of a bottling plant in Canada in 1906. Expansion continued into Asia as early as 1912, Europe by the 1920’s, and Africa by the 1930’s. 125 years later, the company has grown from its single product and location, to 500 brands across 200 countries (125 Years of Sharing Happiness). As figures show this growth as a positive, it neglects to factor in environmental effects associated with global growth, such resource depletion, pollution, and waste. As Coca-Cola has conquered the global beverage market, it must now reassess and take responsibility over its environmental impact of waste management in both water resources and packaging to continue its success into the future.

As Coca-Cola has offered its success abroad, so have countries such as, England and India, also felt the underlying impacts on their water resources that comes with it. Although differing in their political, economic, and social constructions, both countries have found common ground in the effects of Coca-Cola 'drinking their countries dry'. In an article written in 2004, entitled, “Hills are Alive with Sound of Drilling: Malvern Water Facing Coca-Cola Threat,” it addresses the fear of the company’s proposal to drill for water in the Malvern Hills. If Coca-Cola were to expand its water-bottling operation, it would remove an additional 20 million liters of water a year from the hills and would require the installation of a 1.7 mile pipeline to retrieve the water (Hills are Alive with Sound of Drilling). Although the company states that environmental testing will be carried out to ensure minimal damage, a fear still remains of the exploitation of the water resource. Looking at India as an example, a 2006 article entitled, “Coke ‘drinks India dry’,” it addresses the criticism of Coca-Cola depleting water resources in developing countries. “For every 2.7 liters of water it takes, it produces 1 liter of product” (Mathiason). This usage has caused water depletion to the extent that farmers are unable to irrigate their fields and surrounding communities no longer have access to clean water. Here, the company again opposes the concerns by stating that the company believes in equal access to resources and that efforts have been made to reduce water consumption by 24% over 4 years (Mathiason). As Coca-Cola may have gauged their success by their triumph abroad, they must assess these concerns of environmental damage in order to continue providing their product in the future.

Although controversy surrounds Coca-Cola and its water resource damage across the world, the company has begun to address another environmental side effect, waste management. In an article entitled, “The Coca-Cola Company Rolls Out new PlantBottle Packaging,” it speaks to the company’s goal of reducing their carbon footprint by tackling packaging. PlantBottle Packaging is made from atleast 30% plant material and is 100% recyclable (The Coca-Cola Company). The plant material is derived from sugarcane based ethanol, which is cultivated from an area in Brazil known for its environmental sensitivity (The Coca-Cola Company). This life cycle analysis of not just the bottle, but its origins and manufacturing, produce a compelling solution to the traditional plastic bottle. Here the goal of packaging simultaneously addresses two fronts, the problem of emissions and waste management. While PlantBottling Packaging is estimated to eliminate 3 million gallons of gasoline used to produce plastic bottles, it also promotes recycling and a cradle to cradle scenario of the product (The Coca-Cola Company). Through these actions do we see Coca-Cola beginning to recognize the global environmental impacts of their actions, and the steps taken to ensure evolution into the future.

Through the analysis of the Coca-Cola Company, both its actions of a business model and environmental impacts be aligned with previous societies in their quest for growth and expansion. In the text, A New Green History of the World, Ponting devotes a section entitled The Foundations of Inequaltiy, which focuses on the effects of European expansion. With the only focus of growth, European plantation expansion resulted in exploitation of labor and resources. Environmental effects were felt specifically in the Canary Islands with the Spanish Conquest, and Africa with the Portuguese slave trade (173). Here, it was the Europeans who held the power, and were able to manipulate the places they touched, and without any concern for the environment resulted in suffering of the area. As agriculture was the vehicle for European domination over the environment, so is the production of a soft drink for the Coca-Cola Company, with the results of water depletion and waste management. In order to continue its operation, Coca-Cola must learn from these precedents as to not deplete resources so that they may simultaneously continue production and communities may thrive.

Although various factors have contributed to the globalization of the western diet, looking at The Coca-Cola Company as one case study has shown just a piece of the trend’s repercussions of environmental impacts. As Coca-Cola began a small, local company, its growth from the West into the global diet not only altered the current beverage market, but also the environment as well. As figures show this growth as a positive, it neglects to factor in environmental effects associated with global growth, such resource depletion, pollution, and waste. As Coca-Cola has conquered the global beverage market, it must now evolve and take responsibility over its environmental impact to continue its success.


“The Coca-Cola Company Rolls Out New PlantBottle Packaging.” Entertainment CloseUp. Jacksonville: Apr 7, 2011.

"125 Years of Sharing Happiness." The Coca-Cola Company. Coca-Cola. Web. <www.thecoca->.

“Hills are Alive with Sound of Drilling: Malvern water facing Coca-Cola threat”. Birmingham Post. England:Novemeber 24, 2004.

Mathiason, Nick. “Coke ‘drinks India dry’: Critics claim beverage giant’s bottling plants are interfering with irrigation in drought-ridden regions”. The Observer. England: March 19, 2006.

Ponting, Clive. A New Green History of the World: the Environment and the Collapse of Great Civilizations. New York: Penguin, 2007.

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