Going Coca-Cola Free for 2014

Stefan Hostetter
By: Stefan Hostetter

I am not usually one for New Years resolutions, and to be honest I am still not one for New Years resolutions. But I’ve decided to give up Coca-Cola (and related beverages), and framing it as a New Years resolution gives me a gimmick to write this blog post, so here goes. As of 2014, I will no longer drink the delicious nectar that is Coke. Growing up, we weren’t allowed to have coke in our house, which made it a treat reserved for eating out. This spawned a love affair that has lasted with me until this day. In case you haven’t noticed, I really enjoy Coke. For a long time it was my go to example of my own hypocrisy. I knew of the problems that surrounded Coke, but damn does it go well with food. But, in the interest of bettering myself and saving a bit of money, this comes to an end in 2014. I’m going to list all the reasons why I should have done this earlier, because maybe then I’ll be able to stick with it*.

So here goes, the 14 reasons why I should’ve gone Coke free before 2014:

1) They fought against recycling laws: Coca-Cola fought to abolish a recycling deposit scheme in Northern-Australia and was actually successful, if only temporarily so. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that a corporation is going to fight against a measure that could cost them profit. However it is certainly enough for me to dismiss Coca-Cola’s claims of their commitment to sustainability and the sincerity of this campaign.

2) They have a dubious history with water rights: Coca-Cola has been attacked for their water resource management in India, where claims that their bottling plants were taking too much water and leaving poor villagers with too little. Which, combined with the general concerns of the commoditization of water with over sixty different brands of bottled water sold world wide, should probably be enough to at least be concerned about the companies’ actions.

3) They use a monstrous amount of corn: The Economic Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture estimates that approximately 4.7% of all U.S. corn produced in the United States (approximately 511 million bushels) was used to make High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). Of the two main types (HFCS-42, and HFCS-55) the beverage industry accounts for 90% and 41% of its use respectively.

4) Modern day corn production is terrible for the environment: Corn production in both Canada and the United States is the poster child for the problems that face industrial agriculture. Modern corn hybrids require both the most fertilizer and pesticides of any crop, and thus guzzle fossil fuels at an alarming rate (~25 billion litres of fossil fuels** were required to produce the 13.1 billion bushels of corn produced in 2007). On top of the climate difficulties corn creates, it also is playing an alarming role in the mass bee die offs that have been occurring in North America. There is growing evidence that many of the colony collapses which have plagued bee keepers and wild bees can be tied to neonicotinoid insecticides (known colloquially as “neonics”) which are used heavily in corn production.

5) A Large percentage of crop subsidies indirectly subsidize soft-drink production: A study done by the United States Public Interest Research Group showed that between 1995 and 2013 $8.1 billion dollars has been spent to subsidize just corn starch and corn sweeteners. American tax-payers have spent a whopping $84.4 billion dollars on corn production and 9.6% of all corn produced in the United States ends up in junk food and beverages.

6) It’s a waste of money: This one is not corporate responsibility or systems based, but rather personal. As I said in the introduction to this post, drinking Coke was always a treat whenever we as a family ate out. This is something that I have kept up with and frankly it gets expensive. Sure I could afford it, but, given the restaurants that I eat at usually average $7 dollar meals, an extra couple bucks makes a significant difference.

7) It’s not good for me: Soft-drinks are nothing but empty calories. Sweet, delicious, empty calories.

8) It’s owned by people who I probably wouldn’t like: No I don’t mean Mormons, although apparently this idea was strong enough for Snopes to have to write an article debunking it. Coca-Cola is a publicly traded company, meaning that ordinary individuals can buy and sell shares, and they do. In fact 31% of stocks are owned by individuals and statistically (since this 31% of Coca-Cola is divided into nearly 3.5 billion shares) some of the people who own the stock must be jerks. And I don’t want jerks to get my money.

9) Does this feel like a hit piece yet? I am going to be honest, I’m not making it to 14.

When I started writing this article, I had no doubt I’d be able to find a whole whack of information that showed Coca-Cola to be a truly negative force in the world. I had heard of it’s water issues, but from my research the most recent truly concerning accusation is from 2005 and in the past 8 years it seems like the company has made an effort to reduce their water use. I had a similar surprise with Coca-Cola’s record of fighting recycling laws, as I was unable to find much beyond the example in Australia I used in this article. All of the problems with corn are completely legitimate, and I strongly believe that agricultural subsidy reform is one of the most important but ignored requirements for a more sustainable world. But, while Coca-Cola certainly benefits from the poorly structured subsidies, I find it hard to specifically blame the company itself for the government’s failings. The health and money issues also remain legitimate while the not liking people was included as a joke. I’m sure they are all very nice people.

So I guess the question should be: if I felt like I was going to have to stretch the truth in order to write an effective article, then why did I write it? There are a few reasons. The first was simply that I still plan on giving up Coca-Cola for 2014. The second is that I believe any time the problems of industrial agriculture can be highlighted they should be. The third is that corporate responsibility requires an active and informed public. No part of me thinks that Coca-Cola would have done the work it has to reduce its water use in India if there was not an active and interested global community pressuring them to do so and if this article gives even one reader a better understanding of Coca-Cola then it has succeeded. And lastly, I wanted to give an example of what I meant by my previous post on ‘Radical Honesty’. The Green Society Campaign is committed to advancing public education and increasing access to quality information. When I wrote the Radical Honesty post, I got a comment asking if I intended to extend this to all areas of our work even if it would not necessarily serve what is understood as the classic environmentalist mantra. I answered yes, and I hope this post shows what we intend to do as we move forward.

So, should you join me in giving up Coca-Cola, Pepsi and the rest of these related beverages for 2014? That’s entirely up to you, perhaps you have your own vice which is run by a worse company, or perhaps you are just awesome and there is no reason to change at all. But, if there is one take away from this article, it is that before you buy something do a bit of research on the product.

What you find out might surprise you.

* Before anyone says it, yes I have read the studies that say telling people about your resolutions makes you less likely to do them but what else was I going to blog about?

**1/2 a gallon per bushel multiplied by 13.1 billion bushels multiplied by 3.78541 litres per gallon equals approximately 25 billion litres.