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Massachusetts Town Struggles With Coca-Cola’s Waste

Leon Kaye | Monday March 19th, 2012 | 5 Comments
Northampton, MA, is struggling with wastewater.

Northampton, MA, is struggling with wastewater.

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.

Leon Kaye is a journalist, sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business and Inhabitat. You can follow him on Twitter.

Photo of Northampton, MA courtesy Wikipedia Commons.


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  • Cbksk

    This shouldn’t come as a surprise.  Pepsi plants in TX had the same issues two decades ago.  The real question is why Coke is flushing product (sugar water) down the drain.  

  • Nfortune

    Far from stepping up to help pay for the added waste treatment, CocaCola asked for and received What local government did do, to Northampton’s detriment, was agree to offer all kinds of tax breaks for CocaCola to dramatically expand its production, instead of using the added tax revenue to pay for upgrades to an already overburdened water treatment system. The mayor and city council did it out of worries that a corporation with no particular local ties to the community could just as well pack up and go elsewhere, instead of worrying if they could really afford to forgoe the taxes that would pay for the added infrastructure costs. Wiser government focused on promotion of locally based and rooted businesses instead of extortion payments for non-local companies always threatening to leave could have prevented these problems. Services cost money, and offering to waive the costs when businesses expand doesn’t make those costs go away.

  • Billy Jones

    CocaCola could be selling this as liquid fertilizer. All they need is a bottling plant and some used plastic drink bottles…

  • Kathy Kahn

    Billy, please explain how Coke could turn its effluent into liquid fertilizer….

  • ME

    as a former employee of the northampton coca cola plant, i know first hand how some of the crooket supervisors there work. FALSIFYING THIER GMP DOCUMENTS required by OSHA and the food and drug health inspectors. i know because i was tricked into signing a BLANK GMP document when i first started working there thinking it was an employee training document. the plant supervisors are also a bunch of duchebags