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Pepsi’s New 100% Plant Based Bottle: Too Good to Keep to Itself?

| Thursday March 17th, 2011 | 3 Comments

We all know that the amount of plastic generated by the manufacture and consumption of beverages constitutes a huge use of resources. Coca Cola has long been a leader in doing something about it, becoming a large scale recycler itself. Roughly two years ago, it began changing the bottle itself with the creation of PlantBottle: 30% of it came from plant materials, the maximum possible at the time, given average municipal recycling facilities.

100% plant based bottles, while impressive sounding, can’t be recycled through traditional means. Safe disposal requires a professional grade composting system and these are few and far between.

Another problem with PlantBottle is that the plant material comes from sugar cane ethanol grown in Brazil. While Coca Cola worked hard to choose a source that has minimal input requirements and is fast growing, the use of sugar cane means the company is relying on land that could be used for food crops.

This week, the story has changed:

PepsiCo has created a bottle that is 100% plant based, with a molecular structure identical to PET, the plastic used for bottles. This means it’s fully recyclable, without any special facilities required.

The sourcing appears well thought out as well: Initially it will include switch grass, pine bark and corn husks. PepsiCo intends to include orange peels, oat hulls, potato peels and other agricultural byproducts. With the exception of switch grass, a hardy plant that can be cultivated in places food agriculture cannot, all of the inputs can come from the remnants of Pepsi’s food brands production.

This is a smart move on many fronts: It will minimize dependance on petroleum for raw material. It will reduce waste generation in production. It will generate further good will from customers, as their Refresh project has.

PepsiCo will begin testing the bottle in 2012, and plans to quickly deploy it across its brands upon successful testing. Having learned their lesson with the vocal reaction to their first Sunchips compostable bag, the measured pace is understandable.

The question I have is, will Pepsico share the science behind this packaging? Yes, they put a lot of work into it, but something of this benefit shouldn’t be kept to just one company. To be able to massively reduce the impact of what’s perhaps the biggest user of resources among consumer product packaging is too important to horde. Pepsi, what do you say? Will you license this technology to others?

Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations about, and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media marketing.


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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bruce-Miller/100000952005408 Bruce Miller

    Pepsi wins my vote! As fast as oil supplies dwindle, as quickly as we slide down the wrong side of Hubbard’s curves, in step with the ever-rising price of a commodity facing scarcity, industry adapts, and America grows! imagine if this is done on continental U.S.A., and not in Asian factories1 Imagine if this is done with Canadian grown (legal there) hemp fibers.
    My fear is that higher priced American and Canadian labor will force even Pepsi to go off-shore with their technology, and the Canadian/American proletariat, precariat, will lose anyway.

  • Suresh Kumar

    Does it reduce the cost per bottle to Pepsi?

  • mjoyce

    Good piece, except for one little error – Coke’s Plantbottle is PET plastic which happens to be 30% plant-based. This is due to PET being composed of two materials, one of which makes up 70% of the resulting PET, the other making up 30% of the PET. One of the components in the Plantbottle’s PET plastic is made from plant material rather than petroleum, but the finished product is PET plastic which is identical in performance and recyclability to 100% petroleum-based PET.

    Both Coke and Pepsi now appear to have figured out how to make both components of their PET plant-based instead of petroleum-based, but all three (100% oil, 30% plant and 100% plant) are the same 100% PET plastic and 100% recyclable.

    “Compostable” plant-based plastic is mostly PLA, which is a different type of plastic entirely.