They are five of the world’s collections of famous brands. Now Coca-Cola, Ford Motor, Heinz, Nike and Procter & Gamble (PG) pledged last week to form a strategic working group to ramp up the development of bioplastic. If this venture can scale, PET (polyethylene terephthalate), a lightweight material revered for its strength and reviled for its waste, could become, perhaps, a more responsible and sustainable packaging material.
The cooperation has its foundation with Coca-Cola’s successful PlantBottle, a PET product the beverage giant released in 2009 and is partially manufactured out of plant-based resins. By most accounts the PlantBottle, which Coca-Cola licensed to Heinz last year, has a lower environmental impact compared to conventional PET bottles that use fossil fuels as their feedstock. PET bottles of course, cause plenty of headaches with their most common destination, the landfill. Could this working group, the Plant PET Technology Collaborative (PTC), make a difference?
The PTC’s biggest asset is having Nike on board. Nike has been a leader when it comes to working with companies within and far outside its industry in melding sustainability and innovation. In a perfect, or near-perfect world, PET bottles would be recycled time and again in a closed-loop or zero waste system. Failing that, if bottles could be upcycled into fabric for Nike’s shoes or hoodies, the interior of Ford’s cars or become part of more HP printer cartridges, those alternatives are a far better option than centuries of entombment in a landfill. But just because a bottle has 30 or 40 percent less plastic does not mean it uses 30 or 40 percent less petroleum if petroleum-based fertilizers are what helps grow the plants that go into a bioplastic bottle.
To that end, the PTC promises to support new technologies that could allow plant-based PET resins to scale, find new commercial uses for plastics made derived from plants and create a common set of methodologies and standards for the manufacture of this new family of plastics.
Finding solutions will not be easy. Some environmental groups have raised the scenario of bioplastics competing with biofuels and food for farmland. And waste diversion has got to be a huge part of this working group’s success. There is no sense devoting land to growing plants for bioplastic, which will feed a well-groomed public relations machine, but instead could have been used to grow food for a hungrier and growing world. What is exciting, however, is that more companies from diverse industries are working together to solve a growing problem instead of keeping their technologies and best practices hidden from view.
Photo courtesy Coca-Cola.