Northampton, a town of 29,000 people in Western Massachusetts, is home to a Coca-Cola plant that churns out several of Coke’s fruit juice lines. And that plant is also churning out wastewater that is becoming to expensive for Northampton’s wastewater treatment facility to process. Rising costs and the possibility of tensions increasing between a city and one of its largest employers is an example of how municipalities end up fronting and subsidizing the costs of a large company’s operations.
When Coke decided to increase the operating capacity of its Northampton plant, the expansion was hailed for the 100 jobs it added to the local economy. Coke benefited from over $2 million in state grants and tax credits that in part helped finance an on-site effluent treatment plant. But now that plant, which processes a bevy of drinks including Honest Tea and Minute Maid, is not able to handle all of the waste the facility generates.
The result is more sugary effluent that is difficult for the city to treat. That sugar creates high levels of bacteria, and by law the city cannot dump that waste into the Connecticut River. That is the good news. But while Northampton’s wastewater treatment system can handle the processing of the waste, the city pays for extra overtime, energy and the expenses of hauling the sludge to another site.
To deal with the additional costs, Northampton is considering increasing wastewater processing rates by as much as 23 percent. So far city leaders say they are working constructively with Coca-Cola on coming to a solution. But so far Coke’s headquarters in Atlanta have not responded to requests by local journalists about the problem.
As more municipalities struggle with waste diversion, Coca-Cola is in a position to show that it can emerge from this as a strong local citizen and stakeholder. Other companies like Campbell Soup Company and MillerCoors have learned that working with communities on water scarcity challenges produce not only an improved bottom line, but a better track record as a community citizen by showing that companies can take a proactive stand on water stewardship. And therein lies and opportunity for Coca-Cola in New England.
Photo of Northampton, MA courtesy Wikipedia Commons.