Message in a Plant-Based Bottle

PlasticBottle, partially made from bioplastic.The Coca-Cola Co. has taken a huge step by making a commitment to using more environmentally friendly materials. At least 5% of the company’s packaging comes from recycled or renewable materials, with an increase to 25% planned by 2015.

One facet of the plan is using PlantBottle™ packaging. The first preparation of this type of packaging is a polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE) bottle, with 30% of the plastic derived from sugarcane, a renewable material. The video below illustrates the technology behind the PlantBottle.

In North America, brand loyalty to the Dasani product increased 11% with the plant-based bottle. So changing over to more eco-friendly packaging seems to be a good move not just for the environment, but also for the bottom line. This greener packaging is just the beginning, the ultimate goal is to move toward packaging made of 100% plant-based bioplastic by 2020.

The company has invested in three major companies that are working on the new packaging technology: Avantium Research and Technology of Amsterdam; Gevo Inc. in Englewood, Colorado; and Virent Inc. in Madison, Wisconsin.

Jeff Seabright, Coca-Cola’s corporate environmental officer, said this year:

We’ve been able to demonstrate that this is possible technically in the laboratory. What we’re now working on is to make sure that this is replicable and commercially scalable, and that’s an ongoing challenge.

What Are Bioplastics?

Starch-based bioplastic packing peanuts.
Starch-based bioplastic packing peanuts.

Bioplastic is plastic that is made from plant materials. The difference between bioplastic and conventionally made plastic is that the convention plastic uses petroleum in its production. Bioplastics are made from plant-based materials like sugarcane, tree bark, corn, and many others plants and plant parts. There are a few plant-based plastics in wide use, including:

  • Polylactide (PLA), a widely-used bioplastic derived from starch
  • Polyhydroxalkanoate (PHA), another bioplastic made from the starch of sugarcane or beet roots
  • Plastics that are made from plant cellulose, the polysaccharide that gives plants their strength and structure

The newest trend in bioplastics is moving away from feedstock that can impact food prices and moving toward the use of food waste and other more sustainable materials. Biofase, a Mexican company, uses avocado seeds to make a thermoplastic resin called Biocom. Another option is Shrilk, which is made from chitosan and a fibroin protein of silk. Bioplastics made by bacteria or algae are also currently being developed.

Moving Forward Together

Companies interested in bioplastic technology, like H.J. Heinz Company, have helped get the eco-friendly bottle into more widespread use in consumer products. They are using the new packaging for their ketchup bottles. All 20-ounce bottles of Heinz ketchup now sold in stores or found in restaurants use the renewable plant-based material. Still other companies, realizing the potential of the new plant PET technology, have joined together to further fund development of a 100% plant-based PET material. They include Ford Motor Co., Nike, and Procter and Gamble. A collaboration of this magnitude demonstrates the interest in a wide range of packaging and products well beyond the food and beverage industry. These companies are all members of The World Wildlife Fund’s Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance (BFA). BFA helps the companies seek out sustainable plant-based resources for their products and ensures that animals and precious ecosystems are not harmed in the process.

Since their collaboration, Ford has created the Ford Focus Energi with an interior using plant PET technology. Ford used the innovative material for the seat cushions and fabrics, headrests, seat backs, door panel inserts, and door liners.

Packaging for a More Sustainable Future

Recently Virent, Inc., presented the first sustainable, 100% plant-based bottle prototype, made from ethanol-based paraxylene (PX), with Coca-Cola Co. as an investor. Virent is seeking out global partnerships with chemical companies to manufacture the bottles on a larger scale in the next few years.

Scott Vitters, general manager of Coca-Cola’s PlantBottle Innovation Platform, said:

Over the course of our work together, Virent has continuously delivered on their commitments and advanced their technology. That progress supports building additional capability for Virent and advances us on the path to a full-scale commercial solution for our 100 percent plant-based PET plastic packaging.

100% Plant-Based

The collaboration of large companies sharing technology and ideas will be vital in seeing this type of innovation through to fruition. Bravo to all of these companies for realizing that sustainability and environmentally-friendly packaging can not only change the world, but it can add to the bottom line as well.

Image by Duncan Hull.
Image by Christian Gahle, nova-Institut GmbH, by Creative Commons license.
Source: “Plantbottle Technology™ Tops 2014 Sustainable Bio Awards,” by Unbottled Staff, March 24, 2014
Source: “The Coca-Cola Company and Ford Unveil Ford Fusion Energi with PlantBottle Technology™ Interior by Coca-Cola Co.,” www.coca-colacompany.com, November 15, 2013.
Source: “With Help From Coke, Virent Boosts Production of Bio-Based Paraxylene,” by Gayle S. Putrich, www.plasticsnews.com, September 9, 2014.
Source: “Virent Developing Environmentally Friendly Bottles for Coke,” by Thomas Content, www.jsonline.com, September 14, 2013.
Source: “Coke Invests Further in Scaling Virent’s Paraxylene Production for PlantBottle,” by Isabel Lane, www.biofuelsdigest.com, September 9, 2014.
Source: “Heinz: The Journey to a 100% Renewable PlantBottle Will Not Be Easy,” by Jenni Spinner, www.foodproductiondaily.com, February 4, 2014.