The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Plant-Based Bottles

Plant-Based Bottles

In the News

March 27, 2011

Two beverage industry giants are changing the way we drink our beverages – and the way we consume a variety of other products. The Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo have each developed their own plant-based bottle technology that aims to significantly reduce the carbon footprint created by Polyethylene terepthalate (PET) bottles. 

PET is made up of two components – ethylene, which accounts for 30% of the weight of PET, and terephthalate, which accounts for the other 70%. Historically, both of these compounds were created using petroleum. Essentially, plant-based bottles are made by converting plant material into renewable versions of these compounds.

The Coca-Cola Company calls their product PlantBottle™, which is a PET substance made partially from renewable plant material. Launched in 2009, PlantBottle packaging is made through a process that converts sugarcane ethanol from Brazil into monoethylene glycol (MEG). 

Compared to petroleum-based PET, PlantBottle products can reduce carbon emissions by up to 25%. Also, PlantBottle can be processed through existing manufacturing and recycling facilities without contaminating traditional PET. In other words, it can be used and recycled repeatedly.

PlantBottle looks, feels and functions just like traditional PET, but it does so with a lighter footprint on the planet and its scarce resources. Because it’s made partially from plants, it reduces potential carbon dioxide emissions and dependence on fossil fuels compared with traditional PET plastic. Coca-Cola’s use of PlantBottle packaging in 2010 alone eliminated almost 30,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide – the equivalent impact of approximately 60,000 barrels of oil from our PET plastic bottles.

“At Coca-Cola, our packaging vision is zero waste. We take our role as a leader in sustainable packaging innovation seriously,” says Scott Vitters, General Manager, PlantBottle Packaging Platform, The Coca-Cola Company. “Coca-Cola is actively working to prevent waste over the life of our packaging by advancing consumer recycling programs and increasing our use of recycled and renewable material in our packages. PlantBottle packaging is our latest packaging innovation – the first-ever fully recyclable PET plastic beverage bottle made partially from plants.”

In its first year, PlantBottle launched in nine global markets, including Brazil, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Japan, Mexico, Norway, Sweden and the United States, on brands like Bonaqua Water, Barqs, Coca-Cola, DASANI, Fresca, iLOHAS, Sokenbicha, Sprite, and vitaminwater. They used over 2.5 billion PlantBottle packages to deliver a variety of Coca-Cola brand products in 2010, and have plans to more than double that number in 2011. Beginning in April, Odwalla is transitioning to its own 100% recyclable, HDPE PlantBottle, which is made of up to 100% plant-based materials derived from molasses and sugarcane juice. The Coca-Cola Company also recently announced a partnership with Heinz to use the PlantBottle technology on all of Heinz’s 20-ounce ketchup bottles by June 2011. 

“We are determined to lead the consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry away from its dependence on non-renewable fossil fuels and towards using renewable plant-based ones. As the world’s largest beverage producer, we have the ability to create a real, lasting impact on the packaging industry. We are willing to take the lead and help others make the change. Heinz is the first company to join us in adopting PlantBottle packaging and we hope others will follow,” says Vitters. 

For their part, PepsiCo has announced the development of a bottle made entirely from plant-based resources like switch-grass, pine bark and corn husks. The bottle will look, feel and protect the product inside in exactly the same way that traditional bottles do, except that they will be produced from 100% renewable and recyclable resources derived from biomass or agricultural byproducts, says Denise Lefebvre, Senior Director of Advanced Research at PepsiCo.

“To the consumer, the plant-based bottle will be indistinguishable from a bottle made from fossil-fuel sources,” says Lefebvre. “With this development, PepsiCo continues its leadership position in environmental sustainability and driving progress against the global goals and commitments it announced in 2010 to protect the Earth’s natural resources through innovation and more efficient use of land, energy, water and packaging.”

PepsiCo has not yet determined which markets or PepsiCo brands will be involved in the pilot test for their renewable bottles, but they do anticipate doing so by 2012. Although they do not have any current plans in place to license the technology to other companies, they are certainly open to considering an open platform in this area, as the product has such positive implications for the environment.

Future innovations are on tap for both companies. Currently, The Coca-Cola Company’s packaging innovation teams are working to develop a plant-based solution for purified terephthalic acid (PTA) – the other 70% of PET by weight. Over the past four years, they have initiated a multi-technology, multi-partner R&D program focused on developing a scalable and sustainable solution for plant-based PTA. The issue has not been whether it can be done, says Vitters, but rather how to do it sustainably.

“The team is working to advance technologies to extract sugar from plant-based wastes for future generations of PlantBottle packaging. Each of these initiatives has a profound impact on our packaging supply chain, which we are literally rebuilding to accommodate the sustainable production and use of PlantBottle packaging. Our ultimate goal is a carbon neutral, 100% renewable, responsibly sourced bottle that is fully recyclable,” says Vitters.

Other recent environmental advancements by PepsiCo include developing the world’s first fully compostable bag for SunChips, and transitioning Naked Juice to a 100% post-consumer recycled plastic bottle called reNEWabottle™.

“We applaud Coca-Cola, and every other company that is making improvements in the area of sustainable packaging. All of the developments that have been made are beneficial to the environment so the more we all do, the more we all benefit,” Lefebvre adds.

Vitters agrees, “We welcome others in the industry joining us in advancing the science behind packaging made from plants.”