As a blogger, I get a lot of oversized proclamations crossing my desk, so of course I was curious when I learned Coca-Cola had created PlantBottle, made from 30% plant materials, yet still recyclable with the regular PET plastic used for the majority of beverage containers out there on the market today.
I had questions about it and I imagine you would too, so I spoke with Scott Vitters, Director, Sustainable Packaging at Coca Cola to find out more.
Why not 100% plant based? Others have done that successfully for years now, why the foot dragging? It turns out this is no foot dragging, but a rather pragmatic, holistic view of the business ecosystem. If you create a completely green product, but it has limited applications and isn’t worth anything in the post consumer market, then it’s a failure, in many ways. Many biopolymer (fully plant based) bottles can’t handle carbonated or hot beverages, Vitters shared.
In Coca-Cola’s case, they understand that it’s not about focusing on greening one single aspect of a product and going for the publicity. This often results in a product that then compromises in some other aspect.
For instance, Vitters said the practice of “lightweighting” a bottle, using less plastic for the same bottle, often means sandwiching layers of different material together, compromising its recyclability. So while using less plastic is good, rendering it unrecyclable is not.
Speaking of, why won’t the inclusion of 30% plant material cause it to be useless to recyclers? According to Vitters, these bottles are PET. That means to a recycling facility, it is no different then your standard plastic bottle. In their eyes, making a bottle biodegradable, the embodied energy, that is, the usefulness of that bottle is lost when it disintegrates. With a PlantBottle, it can once again be made into another product.
While I think the ideal second life for a bottle is as the same bottle rather than using energy in recycling and reprocessing it, I also am a realist – For many people, even making the effort to recycle is a big step, and making more bottles that come from less petroleum, reuse organic materials, profiting recyclers, causing more to be recycled, I’m in support of that.
Especially so in the case of Coca-Cola, which recently opened their 6th recycling plant, the world’s largest in this case. It will produce 100 million pounds of recycled plastic annually, enough for 2 billion 20 ounce plastic bottles. And according to Vitters, water will also get recycled, at least 60% of what’s used in the plant, with a goal for 100%. “Waste” heat from the plant will be reprocessed as an energy source, and there will be less need for energy, due to things like their grinders using 50% less then the norm.
What other ways are you seeing sustainability incorporated into business decisions with a broader thinking approach? Where are companies missing the mark? What’s your company doing that we can all learn from?
Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio School of Management in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations around, and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media. Who he has and wants to work with includes consumer, media, clean tech, NGOs, social ventures, and museums.