Coca-Cola Rolls Out Plant-Based Recyclable Bottles

plantbottle2Seemingly every day a different company announces a new greening initiative, so when Coca-Cola said this morning that it has begun distributing plastic bottles of Coke and other beverages made with up to 30 percent plant-based material, it might have seemed like just another press release.

In fact, consider it a milestone. The Coca-Cola cursive logo is the most recognized consumer brand in the world, and now, in some places, it will have a little green stamp on it, symbolizing not only that company’s sustainability efforts, but the degree to which green thinking has penetrated the corporate mindset.

Introducing PlantBottle

The Coca-Cola Company dubs the new packaging PlantBottle, and boasts that it is the first-to-market plant based PET plastic bottle in the industry. PlantBottle is already on the shelves in eco-conscious Denmark (in time for Copenhagen) and will be introduced in Canada in December, and San Francisco, LA and Seattle in January.

The beverage company aims to produce 2 billion PlantBottles by the end of 2010, “a first step towards achieving the Company’s vision of bringing to market plastic bottles that are made with 100 percent renewable raw materials and are still fully recyclable,” according to a press release. Muhtar Kent, Coke’s Chairman and CEO called PlantBottle “the bottle of the future.”

The bottle of the future

According to the press release, PlantBottle packaging is currently made through a process that turns sugar cane and molasses, a by-product of sugar production, into a key component for PET plastic. The sugar cane being used comes from predominantly rain-fed crops that were processed into ethanol, not refined sugar. Ultimately, the Company’s goal is to use non-food, plant-based waste, such as wood chips or wheat stalks, to produce recyclable PET plastic bottles.

The bottles do not use 100 percent plant material because the material can not handle hot or carbonated beverages. The end packaging, regardless of the materials used in its manufacture, needs to be PET plastic, so it can be easily recycled with other non-plant based plastics, according to Scott Vitters, Director, Sustainable Packaging at Coca Cola, who discussed the packaging with Triple Pundit earlier this year.

As a result, the new packaging does not directly address the issue that only about 23 percent of plastic bottles in the States are recycled. For countries with no recycling infrastructure that number is much lower. Coca-Cola has made efforts to address this problem by building recycling plants.

A pat on the back

The Company garnered praise for PlantBottle from The Climate Group, which called it “a revolutionary solution,” as well as a more neutral, yet positive reaction from the World Wildlife Foundation, which noted the company gets the raw material for the plant-based bottles from suppliers in Brazil, which have been third party verified for “best in class agricultural practices.”

The fact that a big corporation like Coke could quote the WWF in a press release at all shows the PR benefit these green initiatives can accrue: Coke’s got the pandas on its side!

Since 2004, when then CEO Neville Isdel decided to “put the ugly baby on the table,” and tabulate everything the company was doing wrong environmentally, the beverage giant has begun to swing its multinational army toward sustainability, and in many ways is a case study of the promise and problems of doing so.

Coca-cola has made news this year with its efforts to reduce its carbon footprint, as well as controversies over water usage in China.

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.

25 responses

  1. So what?! Coca Cola still sets up factories in impoverished nations knowing that they can exploit their labor, all the while rotting the teeth of its native people. Coke is the drink of the death squads, plus it’s HORRIBLE for your nutrition. Wake up America.

    1. I think you’re basically correct, but can you blame Coke? Don’t people voluntarily go out and buy the stuff? They love it, in fact.

    1. Our plastic is littered all over the earth. We eventually need bottles that will biodegrade. If you want to see where much of our plastic goes:

      The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

  2. Everyone thinks that just because there is some plant based polymers in a product it is automatically good for the environment.. well newsflash- its not. The mix of plant based polymers with our basic polymers like PET make the product 100% non recyclable. So basically coke just did the environment a disservice. Oh and they don’t biodegrade in typical landfills.

    1. Good point. The line Frito Lay gave about going 1/3 compostable with their packaging was that it would allow them to test the material while building up internal systems to manage a full roll out, along with campaigning for public compost pick-up. Coke’s approach might have a similar purpose.

    2. According to Coca-Cola, a PlantBottle PET bottle feels like traditional PET plastic, it’s the same weight as traditional PET plastic, it works just like traditional PET plastic, and it’s RECYCLABLE just like traditional PET plastic — because it is PET plastic. The difference is that in the manufacture of the PlantBottle, a non-renewable resource (petroleum) is partially replaced with a renewable, plant-based resource (sugar cane). Plus, as the post above clearly states: This is a first step towards achieving the Company’s vision of bringing to market plastic bottles that are made with 100 percent renewable raw materials and are still fully recyclable.

      1. With introductions like these, I always wonder whether the initiative is environmental, marketing or economically driven. Probably a mix, and like may green initiatives, the big question is if this results in a better eco-balance for the product or just gives Coca Cola a better eco friendly image.

  3. Drink water, for thirst
    Drink Coffee, for caffeine

    Even if you buy bottled water, refill the bottles and reuse the bottles as often as possible. Recyclicng starts at home!

    Don’t care about the expiry date on the water bottles, its just a way to make idiots of the existing consumers and make them think that the contents get screwed after a certain date. Its just a way to sell more coke/water/crap.

    Agreed that it helps reduce the waste, but for Coke, its just another guilt free license to sell 30% more and say their contribution to pollution hasn’t increased!

  4. I think Coke is doing what it believes it can. They’re sort of stuck however: the more biodegradable their bottles, the less recyclable they are. But the recyclable plastic of course lasts forever, and ends up in the Pacific Garbage Patch, for example. What they really need to do, and they are making an effort, is increase the percentage of bottles that are recycled and not thrown away. Of course, this is not only their problem.
    To be honest, I don’t know if I entirely believe that biodegradable bottles cannot hold carbonated beverages. I feel likeif the beverage industry really tried, they could come up with a bottle that biodegraded and could hold soda or whatever.

  5. you wish that companies would become green because it helps the planet, not just because it might help them sell more bottles of soda

  6. For all the criticism, when Coke makes even a small change it results in a big change across the globe. At least they are going in the green direction. It’s no bad thing that many companies are greening up for marketing reasons, either way it makes a difference. Chris Arnold, author Ethical Marketing & The New Consumer

  7. if you lay off the coke/pepsi for a while and then try to drink the stuff, it tastes like drinking mud….why do you think coke is called coke??? they purposely make it addictive…they really care about your health??? people shouldn’t drink bottled water, people shouldn’t do a lot of things….we shouldn’t be fighting wars in every continent while fifty million americans don’t know where their next meal is coming from…while bailing out bankers with record breaking end of year bonuses using our tax dollars….Merry *(& XMAS

    change your whole paradigm if we are going to have ANY chance at saving our planet…

  8. That is seriously awesome. That is good news that they are doing this. People might wish the percentage was higher than 30%, but when you span that number over billions of bottles that coca cola produces…that is a huge feat.

  9. That is seriously awesome. That is good news that they are doing this. People might wish the percentage was higher than 30%, but when you span that number over billions of bottles that coca cola produces…that is a huge feat.

  10. I ask Why is this a good thing? Good for who? Depending on how you look at it, this may be a good feature to get away from oil based products (yes that is good for us), or it may be the company realizes that oil prices are going up and it needs an alternative material source (good for coke). Or the concept of using arable land space that grows food and using it to make plastic bottles that a consumer uses for perhaps 60 mins then discards to go to a landfill, may not the best use of the environment (bad for us). But these are not addressing the disposal side of the bottle. This is still a PET bottle. It has the same disposal issues as any other PET bottle. They will last for 100s or 1000’s of years in landfills which is where 77% of them will end up. So again why is this bottle good for us?
    Coke (and all the others) could use one of the new biodegradable additives like Ecopure of EcoOne to make thir bottles biodegradable in a landfill, without compromising the strength of the bottle to contain cabonated pressure. Now that would be good for the environment.

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