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Zero-Waste Bottling: Coke and CSU's Green Prototype in Denver

Jordan Lynch measures recycling signs.

Tonya Tooley shows the compost signs the group designed.

Crushed cans in the recycling area of the Coca-Cola bottling plant.

CSU Supply Chain Management students get feedback from a Coca-Cola employee.

CSU Supply Chain Management students take measurements for recycling bins.

Eric Berlinberg and Tonya Tooley talk with a Coca-Cola employee about the recycling center.

Colorado State University and Coca-Cola are two years into a 10-year agreement to make bottling more sustainable. A small group of students are helping Denver's Coca-Cola plant become a global leader in green bottling.
Eric Berlinberg remembers the panic that temporarily flooded him on his first day working at Denver's Coca-Cola bottling plant. "Where do I throw out my recyclables?" he laughs, recalling that day in the lunch room in 2012.
These days, thanks to the efforts of Berlinberg and a new partnership with Colorado State University, no one will ever have any such doubts in the lunch room ever again.
Coca-Cola and CSU are two years into a 10-year partnership to provide scholarships and internships, academic support and worldwide opportunities in exchange for help and fresh ideas to ease the beverage leader into a new self-sustainable and green era.

Berlinberg, a former CSU student body president whose official (and wordy) title is Product Supply Systems Leadership Associate, is Coke's point person on the project. His days aren't spent labeling new recycling bins -- not all of them at least.
CSU Supply Chain Management students get feedback from a Coca-Cola employee.From the classroom to the field
Each semester, a new group of Supply Chain Management students takes on a new project at the 80-year-old bottling plant in northeast Denver. Last fall semester's inaugural class focused on water reduction, a given considering that CSU is among the country's leading universities with more than 200 faculty members working on water research projects.

They've got water use down to 1.8 liters per liter of product. The goal is to get it down to an 1:1 ratio: one liter of water to each liter of product.
This spring's class is currently working on ways to reduce the final one percent of waste needed to make the plant a zero-waste facility. It's a tricky process, because that last fraction of waste is the most hazardous.
"We're looking to create an atmosphere where it's the norm and not a hassle," says Jordan Lynch, one of four seniors in the spring program. The group is also working on reducing waste affiliated with Coke's point-of-purchase advertising and in-store campaigns.
Pilot plant for sustainability
The classes' solutions can be complex, such as figuring out osmosis or ultrafiltration systems to save water. They can also be as simple as relocating and labeling recycling containers with photos of the recyclable in question.
Coke hopes to use the practices and ideas developed at the Denver plant on Race Street near I-70 at more than 900 of the company's bottling facilities across the globe. That includes work with plants in Africa and China, where the Coca-Cola Water Scholars program has pledged $1 million to a new research project between CSU and East China Normal University.
"They want Denver to be a pilot plant for sustainability," says Brian Fugate, an Associate Supply Chain Management Professor at CSU.
Coke's new role as official beverage of CSU comes with its own impacts on campus outside of simply billboards at the sports venues. Environmental initiatives on campus include smart vending machines that control their own temperatures and hybrid-electric delivery vehicles, to name a few.Eric Berlinberg and Tonya Tooley talk with a Coca-Cola employee about the recycling center.
Also benefitting from the partnership is CSU's newly formed Beverage Business Institute. The BBI offers workshops and courses within the myriad parameters of the soft drink and alcohol industries.
The result of CSU and Coca-Cola's collaboration is a mutual and localized relationship with potentially worldly applications. 
"Sustainability isn't just green-washing," says Fugate. "It makes good business sense. To see Coke believe in this is inspiring."

Photos by Kara Pearson Gwinn.

Read more articles by Christopher C. Wuensch.

Christopher is a freelance writer and contributor to Confluence
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