Words

 

Footprint of Coca-cola

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From Lames Womack and Daniel Jones in their book Lean Thinking, where they trace the origins and pathways of a can of English cola. Quoted in Natural Capitalism by Paul Hawken et al, Earthscan Publications Ltd, UK, 1999.

1. The can

Bauxite is mined in Australia and trucked to a chemical reduction mill where a half-hour process purifies each ton of bauxite into a half ton of aluminium oxide.

When enough aluminium oxide is stockpiled, it is loaded on a giant ore carrier and sent on a month long journey across two oceans to Sweden or Norway, where hydroelectric dams provide cheap electricity. Having sat at the smelter for as long as two months each ton of aluminium oxide is turned into a quarter ton of aluminium metal, in ingots ten meters long. These are cured for two weeks before being shipped to roller mills in Sweden or Germany.

In Sweden or Germany each ingot is heated to nearly nine hundred degrees Fahrenheit and rolled down to a thickness of an eighth of an inch. The resulting sheets are wrapped in ten-ton coils and transported to a warehouse, and then to a cold rolling mill in the same or another country, where they are rolled tenfold thinner, ready for fabrication.

The aluminium is then sent to England, where sheets are punched and formed into cans, which are then washed, dried, painted with a base coat, and then painted again with specific product information. The cans are next lacquered, flanged (they are still topless), sprayed inside with a protective coating to prevent the cola from corroding the can, and inspected.

The cans are palletised, forklifted, and warehoused until needed. They are then shipped to the bottler, where they are washed and cleaned once more.

2. The content

The cans are filled with water mixed with flavoured syrup, phosphorus, caffeine, and carbon dioxide gas.

The sugar is harvested from beet fields in France and undergoes trucking, milling, refining, and shipping.

The phosphorus comes from Idaho, where it is excavated from deep open-pit mines - a process that also unearths cadmium and radioactive thorium. Round-the-clock, the mining company uses the same amount of electricity as a city of 100,000 people in order to reduce the phosphate to food-grade quality.

The caffeine is shipped from a chemical manufacturer to the syrup manufacturer in England.

3. The cartons

The filled cans are scaled with an aluminium 'pop-top' lid at the rate of fifteen hundred cans per minute, then inserted into cardboard cartons printed with matching colour and promotional schemes. The cartons are made of forest pulp that may have originated anywhere from Sweden or Siberia to the old-growth, virgin forests of British Columbia that are the home of grizzly, wolverines, otters, and eagles. Palletised again, the cans are shipped to a regional distribution warehouse, and shortly thereafter to a supermarket where a typical can is purchased within three days.

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The consumer buys twelve ounces of the phosphate-tinged, caffeine-impregnated, caramel-flavoured sugar water. Drinking the cola takes a few minutes; throwing the can away takes a second.

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In England, consumers discard 84 percent of all cans, which means that the overall rate of aluminium waste, after counting production losses, is 88 percent. The United States still gets three-fifths of its aluminium from virgin ore, at twenty times the energy intensity of recycled aluminium, and throws away enough aluminium to replace its entire commercial aircraft fleet every three months.

 

(Page 49/50, Natural Capitalism by Paul Hawken et al, Earthscan Publications Ltd, UK, 1999.

Quoting Lames Womack and Daniel Jones in their book Lean Thinking, where they trace the origins and pathways of a can of English cola.)


 

 

 

 

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Posted December 2003
rachelkellett@rediffmail.com