From: Allison Winter, ENN
Published December 6, 2012 10:00 AM

The Race for Developing Plant-based Renewable Plastics

The 20th century marked the great space race between Russia and the United States for domination in space exploration. Now the 21st century marks a new race: Coca-Cola and PepsiCo competing for leadership on plant-based renewable plastics.


In March of 2010, PepsiCo announced the world's first PET plastic bottle made entirely from renewable plant-based resources ensuring production of a new 100% recyclable bottle in 2012. PET plastics are typically labeled with the #1 code near the bottom of the containers and are commonly used for soft drinks, salad dressings, water, etc. Once the pilot production is complete, the company intends to move to full-scale commercialization.

Pepsi's "green" bottle is made from bio-based raw materials, including switch grass, pine bark and corn husks with promise to add orange peels, potato peels, oat hulls and other agricultural byproducts in the future.

In order to keep up, Coca-Cola responded last December by announcing a partnership with three leading biotechnology companies to accelerate development of the first commercial solutions for next-generation bottles made 100% from plant-based raw materials.

So while both companies have prototypes, the challenge now is the commercialization of 100% plant-based bottles on a global scale.

"There is of course a battle between corporations on leadership to get to the market plant-based PET material as quickly as possible," said Ulrike Sapiro, Environmental Sustainability Director at Coca-Cola.

Right now, Coca-Cola is already using plastic bottles that are up to 30% made from plants. Coke's trademark PlantBottle product was first launched in Denmark and the United States in 2009.

However, in order for that 30% to get to 100%, more research needs to be done, as full plant-based bottles do not have the same properties as PET. High-density polyethylene (HDPE), for instance, can be 100% sourced from plants and is often used for juice bottles, Sapiro explained. But the plastic is a bit more rough, has a coloration to it, and is less transparent than PET, making it less appealing to consumers. So the challenge will be marketing the product to consumers.

However, there are still some environmental concerns with bioplastics. Robbie Blake, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, says, "Bioplastics raise exactly the same controversy about our over-consumption of land, and the damaging style of intensive plantation agriculture used to mass-produce the raw materials. At large scales – same as biofuels –, bioplastics and other bio-based products risk competing for land with food, causing indirect land use changes, meaning more deforestation and conversion of wild areas into ploughed fields."


Plastic bottles image via Shutterstock. 

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