Author(s): Peter Bryer
Few companies in the world use more plastic than Coca-Cola, with tens of billions of new PET Coke bottles created each year. From sustainability to public relations, the beverage company has every incentive to take an environmental leadership position.
This week, Coca-Cola introduced a PET plastic bottle made completely from sugar production waste rather than fossil fuels. Coke had previously used bottles made partly of plant materials, but has now fulfilled a promise to move to a 100 percent plant-based variant. The goal is to roll out the use of the new bottles across many of its beverage brands in the next five years.
Not many industries can boast of annual volumes in the billions, but the handset business is certainly one. Major device makers are always on the lookout for new sustainable packaging solutions and product materials. Coke says that its bioplastic material can be used anywhere that traditional PET plastics are used, and the company has been willing to share its technology with other firms. Coke has already partnered with Ford, which has been using the PlantBottle technology for fabric interiors in some Ford Fusion models.
Plant-based PET bottles are still plastic, but Coke says that their use leads to a significant reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. The company already uses bioplastics for 30 percent of its packaging in North America, where bottles are made with a mixture of biological and fossil-based materials. The bottles can be recycled like other PET plastics, though there's no mention of composting or improved biodegradability.
The interest in the use of bioplastics has been increasing across many industries, and consumer electronics companies — which use large amounts of plastics for production and packing — have done some innovating of their own. In 2009, for example, Samsung introduced the Reclaim: a phone made partly of bioplastics. It created goodwill for the company, though limited sales.
Billions of Coke bottles will be stamped with greener labels, and the beverage company will explain the development and use of its durable PlantBottle technology. But Coca-Cola is one of many food and packaging companies pursuing such materials. Bioplastics are becoming the new normal as companies come under increasing competitive pressure from consumers and regulators to implement more sustainable alternatives.