Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

Petroleum-Free Bottles And Big Donations: Soda’s PR Battles

Soda has been targeted by public health advocates as a leading contributor to the obesity epidemic. See the ways the industry is trying to change its image.

PlantBottle

Photo: Coke News (flickr)

Coca-Cola intends to widely release this bottle made from sugarcane juice and molasses in the next few years.

Picking On Soda

Few other food giants take the heat for the obesity epidemic like the soda industry.

In a story unfolding eerily like the tobacco industry’s PR troubles, critics of sweetened beverages have pointed out the correlation between pop and obesity as well as diet sweeteners and high blood pressure. Aggressive ad campaigns against soda have been introduced, and soda has been critiqued for marketing to children as well as making health claims about the product.

Under pressure from the recession, lawmakers continuously toy with soda taxes. Soda has been taken from American schools and Mexican schools are joining the US in limiting or removing soda from what they sell during lunch.

Petroleum-Free Packaging

In response, the soda industry has worked hard to show consumers it isn’t the sole contributor to the obesity crisis and is trying to court people who are sympathetic to public health.

The beverage industry is changing its image down to its packaging by introducing completely petroleum-free bottles. Pepsi just revealed it’s 100% plant based bottle, which is set to be released in 2012. The goal is that the bottles will be made from plant waste like corn husks or recycled food scrapes like orange peels and oat hulls that are normally discarded from Pepsi plants.

Two years ago Coca-Cola introduced it’s plant-based PlantBottle which is 30% made from molasses and sugarcane juice. The advantage of these new bottles is that they can save hundreds of thousands of gallons of gas annually. Furthermore, they can be recycled at most recycling facilities with other plastics. All that, and they will feel and last like the current plastic bottles.

Funding The Fight Against Obesity – Hopefully Fairly

The American Beverage Association (ABA) wants consumers to know that they are committed to helping end the obesity crisis by donating $10 million to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia that will fund research on childhood obesity through a newly created organization: The Foundation for a Healthy America.

The hospital said in a statement that it is committed to researching independently from the soda industry through peer-reviewed publications. There will certainly be pressure from the beverage industry, though, especially because this donation warded off last year’s proposed New York City soda tax.

Similarly, Coca-Cola recently funded the North Carolina School of Public Health campaign’s against Childhood Obesity. Marion Nestle comments, “Isn’t that nice of them? The apparently unironical slogan of the campaign: ‘Everything in moderation.’”

It remains to be seen whether these changes will garner more public support for the beverage industry and actually enact any real change in the way Americans consume empty soda calories. But at least children and the environment stand to benefit from soda’s PR maneuvers.

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Julie Rooney

Julie Rooney is a vegetarian, musician, and artist who primarily works in video and new media. Currently she is the director of Low Road Gallery, a non-profit contemporary art gallery located in Greencastle, Indiana.

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