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.