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Pollution-Absorbing Tea, Anyone? Coca-Cola Is Serving!

By Kate Shifman

MANILA, PHILIPPINES — Talk about a bundle deal! What if you could grow your business while saving the environment? Smart folks at Coca-Cola came up with a genius way to promote their brand, up their sustainability cred, and clean up pollution—all with one billboard.

Courtesy of Coca-Cola Company

On June 23, 2011, Coca-Cola Philippines and the World Wildlife Federation unveiled the first plant billboard in the country. The project is a part of Coca-Cola’s Live Positively sustainability campaign and encompasses two areas of the campaign’s scope, water stewardship and climate protection.

The 60-by-60-foot plant billboard, located in the country’s capital, Manila, is made up of thousands of Fukien tea plants, which absorb air pollutants. With each plant capable of absorbing up to 13 pounds of carbon dioxide a year, the entire structure is estimated to absorb a total of 46,800 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The impressive structure, made of recycled Coca-Cola bottles, is designed to contain the plants securely and let them grow sideways. These bottles were filled with a potting mixture containing a combination of industrial by-products and organic fertilizers—a formulation that is stable and lightweight.

A drip irrigation system was specifically designed for efficient water distribution. This irrigation method saves water and fertilizer by allowing water to slowly drip to the roots of plants, through valves, pipes, tubing, and emitters. Water is systematically distributed with nutrients to the plants according to a schedule. The irrigation system provides the plants with what they need when they need it.

In addition to improving the air quality in Manila, the powerful visual statement of the billboard is sure to bring public awareness to the issues of air quality, pollution, and recycling. The message of this billboard will be seen and heard far beyond the Philippines, resonating throughout the media from influential sites, such as Yahoo and Huffington Post, to a myriad of blogs.

This is a great way to inspire homeowners all around the world to incorporate recycled materials and environmentally friendly irrigation techniques in their lives. This project can be replicated on a smaller or larger scale by virtually anyone, from a homeowner in California to an urban gardener in New York City to a farmer in Brazil, eager to save water.

We at Sierra Club Green Home are always on the lookout for great new ways to help our readers live greener and healthier lives. If you’re wondering how you can go about installing a drip irrigation system in your own garden, here are some great tips on YouTube:

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If air quality is your main concern, follow Coca-Cola’s lead and plant some of these pollutant-absorbing plants in your home or garden. In an average home with eight- to ten-foot ceilings, the Foliage for Clean Air Council, a communications clearinghouse for information on the use of foliage to improve indoor air quality, recommends at least two plants per 100 square feet of floor space.

Common house plants such as the Boston fern, English ivy, Areca Palm, spider plant, and Striped Dracaena are inexpensive, ecologically sound, aesthetically pleasing ways to filter toxins from your home, particularly during these winter months when you are likely to spend most of your time closed up indoors with the windows shut. A single Boston fern can remove 1,800 micrograms of formaldehyde (nearly the total amount found in a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study) from the air in about an hour.

There’s no word yet on whether the initiative would be replicated outside of the Philippines, but a Coca-Cola insider tells me their global business system is generally quite keen to replicate good ideas when they see them.

Kate Shifman is a New Yorker, sustainability professional, photographer, and publisher of Solar In The City, a solar and energy efficiency guide for the city dweller.

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