Business upcycling ideas for used coke bottles

Published on June 3rd, 2014 | by Jeff McIntire-Strasburg

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Coca-Cola 2nd Lives: Brilliant Upcycling Ideas, or Just More Plastic Crap?

We’re big fans of upcycling ideas here at sustainablog: it’s hard to think of a better way to deal with all the waste we create than by turning it into something useful (whether through industrial processes, or the crafty version of upcycling). So, my initial response to Coca-Cola’s 2nd Lives, which is a series of 16 screw-on tops for used Coke bottles that turn them into something else, was “genius.” As I’ve read through other coverage, and comments on those posts, I’ve seen that not everyone’s so positive about this development.

Take a look at Coke’s promo video for the program first…

Yep, lots of happy people (of course). I couldn’t help but think of the scene from the documentary Garbage Warrior in which architect Michael Reynolds sends kids out looking for plastic bottles in the Andaman Islands after a tsunami. The kids find plenty of them (for which Reynolds pays). Reynolds and team then uses that trash to build Earthship homes for island residents who’d lost their own houses. My point: there’s lots of plastic bottle litter in the developing world (where Coke will give away/sell these products initially), so putting that trash to good use – even if it’s just for water guns for kids – strikes me as a positive. There’s no reason these caps wouldn’t fit on any standard size plastic bottle. Of course, the company would want to make sure to share information about proper cleaning of bottles, especially if they’re used for things like condiment dispensers… but that’s all possible.

On the other hand, though, this is more plastic to deal with a problem created by plastic. I don’t know what kind of recycling infrastructure exists in places like Vietnam (where Coke is rolling out 2nd Lives), but I’d guess it’s minimal. So, introducing these bottles in such places – I’m sure they’ve been available for years – probably wasn’t very responsible. From that perspective, 2nd Lives looks like a Band-aid on a gunshot wound – something on a much broader scale would be necessary to address the problem. And guess where these squirt guns and water sprayers will end up once they reach the end of their useful lives? Lying beside the bottles they were designed to “upcycle,” no doubt.

I’m not ready to dismiss this idea, but I’m also rethinking my initial assessment. Is Coke onto a useful, responsible means of dealing with the litter often created by its products? Or is this just greenwash? Would supporting recycling services, or even just sticking to packaging that’s more easily recycled (like glass or aluminum) be better answers? Very interested in your thoughts…

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Featured image credit: screen capture from “Coca-Cola 2nd Lives” video



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About the Author

Jeff McIntire-Strasburg is the founder and editor of sustainablog. You can keep up with all of his writing at Facebook, and at



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