Emanuel tied the $2.59 million grant to Earth Day, saying the company was helping Chicago become “a greener, more sustainable city,” even though the mayor previously had credited himself for saving enough money to pay for citywide recycling by switching to grid-based garbage pick-up.
Under the terms of the deal, Coke’s philanthropic arm, the Coca-Cola Foundation, will pay for 25,000 household blue carts this year as part of Emanuel’s push to finally extend recycling to every house and small apartment building in Chicago by the end of the year. The company will pay for another 25,000 carts over the next five years to replace those that get damaged around the city.
In exchange, Coca-Cola, which has been fighting government efforts around the country to place restrictions on its sugary beverages, gets to be linked to a large-scale environmentally friendly program in a big city.
“We see this as an incredible way to be able to give back to Chicago, give back to the United States, and to be able to keep our pledge, which is to be sure that every bottle, plastic bottle, can in which our products are packaged and sold will find its way back into a recycling bin,” said Sonya Soutus, a Coca-Cola marketing executive who joined Emanuel in front of stacks of blue carts at a news conference at a park in the Roseland neighborhood.
Coca-Cola’s contribution replaces city revenue that would have paid for the carts, according to city spokesman Bill McCaffrey. The Emanuel administration did not need the Coke money in order to complete the household recycling rollout, he said. No plans have been finalized about what the city will do with the money it saves thanks to the corporate contribution, McCaffrey said.
Emanuel’s appearances alongside Coca-Cola executives have become a common sight in recent months. The public initiatives began last October, when the mayor was joined by top Coke executive Steve Cahillane and other soft drink executives to announce Chicago would compete this year against San Antonio for a $5 million national beverage lobbying group grant rewarding city workers for being healthy.
At the time, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was fighting to limit the size of sodas sold in some businesses there, and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino had ordered city departments to phase out the sale and advertising of sugary drinks to fight obesity and rising health care costs.
Emanuel, however, said he believed in “personal responsibility,” and struck a deal with the soft drink manufacturers to include calorie information alongside their products on vending machines in city buildings. The move was criticized as a half measure by some advocates for healthy eating.
In November, Cahillane came to a Near West Side park to announce Coke would contribute $3 million to fund Chicago Park District nutrition classes to fight obesity and diabetes as well as exercise classes run by armed forces veterans.
Asked then whether he could do more for children’s health by limiting their access to sugary drinks, Emanuel said Coca-Cola’s contributions were complementing his efforts to improve kids’ lives. Emanuel’s predecessor, Richard M. Daley sits on Coke’s board of directors.