Inside Job: Witnessing the Beauty of Coca-Cola’s Bottling Plant

My preschool dreams came true recently when I was offered a chance to visit a Coca-Cola bottling plant in San Leandro and I practically jumped up and down, clapping, and yelling, “I get to see the machines work!” I’d logged hours of watching How it’s Made when my kids were young, plus, my formative years were spent watching Laverne & Shirley work the assembly line at Shotz Brewery. Now, I was getting a chance to see all of the magic happen up close and before scoffing at that thought, here is proof of magic:

This is a Dasani bottle in its infancy. This little tube gets puffed up to normal size before being sanitized and filled, which all happens in seconds.

Things were as expected (the facility was pristinely clean, there were machines every where, forklifts zipped around, and the output was massive), but there was much about which to be surprised, most notably the incredible environmental friendliness of the process. Plus the speed. Technology allowed everything to move rapidly. While I saw bottles zipping by on a machine, it was explained that lasers (lasers!) were doing quick analysis of each bottle. When those Dasani bottles were transformed to regular size, the machines quickly scanned for abnormalities and dropped flawed bottles. The same thing happened with weight. After a bottle was filled, it was weighed in the blink of an eye, and if the weight was off, the bottle was dropped from the line instantly, like a losing game show contestant. It was mesmerizing. I could have watched it all day.

Quickly noticeable was the size of the plant, a whopping 26 acres (about eight football fields), and while the machines are churning out 1700 cans a minute (and that’s only the cans), the facility only produces one dumpster of garbage a week. One. A single, standard size dumpster. That is it. And that includes garbage from the employee lunchroom. To make that happen, 97% of their solid waste is diverted from landfill, mostly being sold for other uses, like plastic bottles being recycled into carpeting.

The forklifts zipping around the plant use hydrogen with zero emissions, and in a bigger environmental win for the company, they were able to reach a 2020 water neutrality goal five yeas ahead of schedule. As imagined, it takes a lot of water to make drinks, meaning water neutrality is a huge accomplishment.

Like many moms, I watch our soda intake, generally limiting it as an option for special occasions, and there is no shame in that with Coca-Cola because they are adjusting, too. The Coca-Cola brand is bigger than is obvious. We drink Dasani, including the flavored, sparkling versions, but also other Coca-Cola products: VitaminWater, Smart Water, Honest Tea, Odwalla, Simply Orange, and Aloe Gloe, which I’d never heard of before my plant tour, but my daughter now loves. Plus, there are those cute, baby-sized cans of sodas, which is Coke’s polite way of saying, “watch your serving size.” Or, as those cans may have said to me, “Get your Diet Coke addiction under control before you embarrass us both.”

Finally, here is the production beauty. It was better than Laverne and Shirley. I could watch this all day.

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