In its 2009/2010 sustainability report, Coca-Cola gave a hostile assessment of biodegradable drinks packaging. It said: “A one-use bottle is simply not a viable option for our business.” The soft drinks giant explained: “While biodegradable packaging can be a sound choice for products that are not commercially recyclable, the process of capturing the embodied energy and raw materials in beverage bottles for reuse through recycling is, in our view, a much better option.” It is important to read that one of the largest user of beverage bottles points out the absurdity of biodegradable and/or compostable packaging, while no infrastructure is in place to reasonably meet the problems created by so called bio-plastics.
The answer of Coca-Cola is the recyclable PlantBottle. The PlantBottle looks, feels and functions like traditional PET plastic and remains fully recyclable. Coca-Cola first launched the PlantBottle in 2009 on brands that included Coke, Sprite, Fresca and Dasani water. By using the PlantBottle across multiple brands, the company has significantly reduced its dependence on non-renewable resources. An initial life-cycle analysis conducted by the Imperial College London showed that the use of the PlantBottle provides a 12% to 19% reduction in carbon impact. In 2010 alone, the packaging eliminated the equivalent of almost 30,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, or approximately 60,000 barrels of oil. Coca-Cola stresses that the only difference between a traditional PET bottle and a PlantBottle is that up to 30% of the material is made from plants. The plant material is produced through an innovative process that turns natural sugars found in plants into a key component for PET plastic. Currently, PlantBottle is made using sugarcane ethanol from Brazil. Although the PlantBottle is a much better option than the biodegradable and compostable bottle in general, I still have objections to the PlantBottle and sincerely hope that Coca-Cola will meet that objections in the near future and fulfil its promise, made in 2009, that it is also exploring the use of other plant materials (read biomass or plant residues) for future generations of the PlantBottle. What objections? Well, the ‘plant part’ of the bottle is derived from Brazilian sugarcane. To meet the explosive demand worldwide for ethanol derived from sugarcane, the Brazilian sugarcane planters are pushing the cattle breeders more and more away from the traditional areas, who in their turn burn the Cerrado, the Pantanal and the Amazon forest for more pasture. Three of the world’s most rich biomes are seriously threatened by the explosive demand of ethanol from sugarcane. (Read my articles about this subject: “The Amazon and the Pantanal Free of Sugarcane? Well, Sort of” and “The Cerrado Suffers Worse Than The Amazon”) But whatever Coca-Cola will do in the future, it has to be said that the PlantBottle is a much better solution than the illogically lauded biodegradable and compostable alternative. Unfortunately the environmental credentials of biodegradable and compostable bottles, typically made from corn-based PLA (polylactic acid), sit well with green-minded, albeit mindless consumers. And H.J. Heinz Co. follows in the footsteps of Coca-Cola when they announced the biggest change to its ketchup bottles since the company first introduced its plastic packaging in 1983. Heinz is planning to convert all its 20-oz ketchup bottles to PlantBottle packaging in the USA this summer. The new packaging is the result of a strategic partnership between the Coca-Cola Co. and Heinz. Heinz plans to introduce 120 million PlantBottles in 2011. In time, the plastic Heinz Ketchup bottles globally will be made from PlantBottle, and by 2020, Coca-Cola’s goal is to transition all of its plastic packaging to PlantBottle. Hasso von Pogrell, managing director of European Bioplastics, states, that the broader bio-packaging concept has a promising future in the sector. Pogrell praised the PlantBottle from Coca-Cola saying it may be considered a bio-plastic product because renewable resources are used in its manufacture and it is suitable for recycling alongside ordinary PET.
Albeit I have expressed some objections, I’m glad that Coca-Cola as well as Heinz decided against the biodegradable, compostable packaging. Mankind shouldn’t use food crop neither for fuel nor for packaging. The idiocy of PepsiCo with its Frito-Lay ‘noiseless’ compostable PLA chips pouch shouldn’t be lauded, let alone followed by others. There aren’t sufficient composting facilities available for the public, consequently the PLA pouch ends up either at the roadside, in the landfill or in the recycling stream. A headache in all three cases.