Coca-Cola: Bubbles 'Not a Very Large Part of Our Overall Carbon Footprint'

December 12, 2008 - 7:50 PM
Is the carbon dioxide gas injected into soft-drinks a major cause of  "global warming" -- assuming global warming is real? Coca-Cola and the experts agree: Probably not.

Copyright 2008 The Coca-Cola Company

(CNSNews.com) – Is the whoosh when you open a Diet Coke can a major contributor to so-called global warming?
 
Probably not – though, on the surface, it’s hard to see why not.
 
The Coca-Cola Company, which has become the darling of the environmental movement, is one of the world’s top users of carbon dioxide – a known greenhouse gas.
 
Worldwide, Coca-Cola’s operations emitted 1.9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), according to what it told the Carbon Disclosure Project last year.
 
Coke won't reveal how much CO2 that it uses to inject into its beverages, but it is estimated to be even larger. Coca-Cola spokeswoman Mary Kathryn Covert told CNSNews.com that the world’s largest beverage company did sell 22.7 billion gallons of soft drinks worldwide in 2007, the latest year for which statistics are available. 

"We produce 2,800 beverage products, some of which are carbonated. The amount of CO2 varies in each one of our beverages, so for instance, a Coke Classic will have a different amount of carbon dioxide than a Sprite," she told CNSNewscom.

"We consider the amount of CO2 in each one of the beverages -- and therefore the amount of CO2 we use in total -- to be a trade secret. As you know, The Coca-Cola Company is famously protective of our secret formula."

According to beverage industry estimates, the U.S. consumes about 10 million gallons of soft drinks per year.

The American Beverage Association's Beverage Digest places the U.S. non-alcoholic refreshment market's total amount consumed at 14 billion cases (with each case containing 192-oz. of beverage.) Carbonated soft drinks made up 73 percent of the total.

The National Soft Drink Association, meanwhile, says the average American consumes over 600 12-oz. servings per year. 

All told, the average American consumes nearly 60 gallons of soda a year, with young men, aged 12 to 29, the biggest consumers -- drinking over 160 gallons of soda per year.

That’s a lot of gas – carbon dioxide gas, to be exact.
 
So with CO2 off-gassing supposedly a major contributor to global warming, aren’t the bubbles in soft drinks a major part of Coke’s “carbon footprint?”
 
Not according to Jeff Seabright, vice president of environment and water resources, for the Atlanta-based beverage giant.
 
“We are taking carbon dioxide that is an off-product of other processes – gasification in particular, and others – and incorporating that into our beverages,” the Coke executive told CNSNews.com. “That is not a very large part of our overall carbon footprint.”
 
Experts tell CNSNews.com that Coke is probably right -- the fizz of your soda bottle or can probably has a negligible impact on the environment.
 
“I think you would have a hard time designating CO2 from Coca-Cola as a major contributor to global warming,” North Carolina State University physicist Dr. David Haase said. 
 
Haase, founding director of the Science House, a science education forum and Web site that serves more than 3,000 teachers and 20,000 students in North Carolina every day, has pondered the question.
 
“One gallon of liquid soda contains maybe 3 to 4 gallons of CO2 gas," Haase said.  "This is about .065 pounds of gas. The CO2 is often a byproduct from some other chemical process, and is generally not made just to fizz the soda drink.
 
“Burning a gallon of gasoline to drive to the grocery would add 20 pounds of NEW CO2 to the atmosphere. You would have to open about 300 gallons of soda to release the same amount of CO2 to the atmosphere.
 
“The U.S. consumes over 3 billion (55 gallon) barrels of gasoline per year and about 10 billion gallons of soda per year.”
 
From those numbers, Hasse concluded that “soda contributes 2/100,000th (.00002) as much CO2 as gasoline burning.”
 
Dr. Roy Spencer, a principal scientist for NASA at the University of Alabama in Huntsville -- who questions whether CO2 actually causes “global warming” – nevertheless agreed that the total amount of CO2 that Coke uses is small in comparison with the global total produced by humanity.
 
His calculations place the figure at 4,000 tons of CO2 a day -- worldwide.
 
“It’s all relative, 4,000 tons of carbon dioxide a day is a lot of weight, but compared to what mankind uses everyday in terms of total energy use, it’s really tiny,” he said.  
 
Humanity produces about 70 million tons of CO2 a day, he said.
 
Coke, meanwhile, does acknowledge that one of the company’s biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions lies in the 10 million or so coolers and vending machines it operates globally.
 
That’s why it is busy trying to replace hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) fridges with – guess what – compressed CO2 refrigeration.
 
"This matters because studies show that HFC emissions will constitute an increasingly greater share of global warming pollutants in the future unless business takes action," Seabright said.
 
Hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigeration systems are 1,000 times worse for the environment, according to Seabright, and the company is working with other beverage giants to create the next generation in refrigeration.

It has also pledged to eliminate more than 10,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year -- the equivalent of removing 2,000 cars from the road.
 
Coca-Cola was named one of the top “green-strategy” firms in the world last week, according to the corporate environmentalism group, CERES.