PepsiCo revealed on Tuesday that it’s going to use a plastic made entirely of plant material for its bottles starting next year. The company claims the new plastic beats the technology of competitor The Coca-Cola Company, and reduces the carbon footprint of the bottles.
According to an Associated Press report:
The bottle is made from switch grass, pine bark, corn husks and other materials. Ultimately, Pepsi plans to also use orange peels, oat hulls, potato scraps and other leftovers from its food business.
An official press release from PepsiCo reveals some more details about the 100% plant-based plastic. The company claims that by combining biological and chemical processes, it has figured out ways to create a molecular structure that is identical to petroleum-based polyethylene terephthalate (PET).
PET is a thermoplastic polymer from the polyester family, which means it melts when heated and freezes when cooled. PepsiCo says its innovation produces a plastic that looks, feels and protects the beverages the same way the existing PET beverage containers do their job.
In contrast, Coca-Cola produces a bottle using 30% plant-based materials. The company recently estimated that it would be several years before it has a 100% plant bottle that’s commercially viable.
Apparently, plant-based plastics is a hot research topic. Chemical & Engineering News‘ senior business editor, Melody Bomgardner, recently blogged at CENtral Science’s Cleantech Chemistry about Cambridge, MA-based Metabolix. The company is interested in bioplastics, and its researchers recently published a paper where they described specially engineered research-grade tobacco plants that grew an industrially useful quantity of polymer inside their cells.
In their experiments, the researchers got the plants to produce polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) up to 9% of the total dry plant weight. PHAs are linear polyesters churned out by bacteria when they break down sugar or lipids and have potential applications as packaging materials and parts for medical devices. Metabolix thinks its engineered tobacco plants produce 10 times more PHA bioplastic than in earlier reports.
Source: “PepsiCo unveils 100 percent plant-based bottle,” Associated Press, 03/15/11
Source: “Pepsi tests bottle made from plants,” MSN Money, 03/15/11
Source: “More plastics from plants,” Cleantech Chemistry blog, 03/10/11
Image by theimpulsivebuy, used under its Creative Commons license.
Rajendrani "Raj" Mukhopadhyay is a science writer and editor who contributes news stories and feature articles on scientific advances to a variety of magazines. Raj holds Ph.D. in biophysics from Johns Hopkins University.