Why we’re sharing our PlantBottle technology with the world

It’s been 10 years since The Coca-Cola Company introduced its innovative plant-based PlantBottle packaging. Now, in a groundbreaking move, it’s making the bioplastics available to all industries – including its competitors. Diego Lugagne, Packaging Innovation Manager, Sparkling R&D EMEA, explains why this is such a game-changer.

In 2009 PlantBottle was a true innovation that set Coca-Cola apart from the competition. 10 years later, why are you letting competitors use it?
Since we introduced PlantBottle, we’ve allowed non-competitive companies to use the technology in their products. These include the packaging for Heinz Tomato Ketchup and the fabric interior in some Ford Fusion cars. Now, we need more companies to use it to achieve the environmental impact we know it can have. It’s all part of our vision to move towards a World Without Waste, which includes consuming fewer non-renewable resources.   

What does opening up the technology mean?
In our industry, this is a shift in mindset. It’s about allowing everyone to use the best ideas if, together, we can help protect the planet. By opening up the intellectual property of PlantBottle to competing companies, it will allow our industry to reduce the carbon footprint of packaging and help to drive a circular economy not based on fossil fuels. We also hope that by encouraging more use of PlantBottle packaging, demand for it will grow and its price will fall.

How does PlantBottle packaging reduce carbon emissions?
PlantBottle has a very strong carbon emissions benefit because it is partly made from bio-based sources. This gives it a much lower CO2 footprint compared to PET made from fossil fuel sources. To give you an idea of how effective PlantBottle is, we’ve saved the equivalent of emissions from a million cars since its launch 10 years ago.
         
How does this move fit into Coca-Cola’s World Without Waste vision?
PlantBottle supports our vision and goal of getting renewably sourced polymers into our closed loop. This is how it works: in the circular economy you have a material that is used, reused and recycled. PlantBottle fits into this very well as it can be recycled. But it also has the added advantage in that any new plastic you need to put into the circular economy – and there will always be a certain amount – can come from a system that consumes less CO2.

 


What other bioplastic technologies are out there? Is PlantBottle still a leader in the field?

It’s important to remember that a bioplastic (like PlantPET) is a plastic that comes from renewable sources, such as vegetable oils, corn starch, straw, woodchips, food and agricultural waste. People often confuse this with biodegradable plastics. But not all bioplastics are biodegradable, nor are they all recyclable. The beauty of PlantBottle is that, unlike some other bioplastics, it’s fully recyclable, and fits perfectly in the circular economy model our society needs to move to. There are lots of biodegradable and compostable plastics around today, but it’s important to understand that some of these materials only degrade under very specific conditions that are not always present in the environment.

A bottle is still a bottle, even if it comes from plant-based sources. Shouldn’t we be focusing on creating a circular use of materials?
Yes, absolutely – that’s why we’re also focusing on developing enhanced recycling technologies and using recycled plastic more and more. However, even as we increase the amount of recycled plastic usage, there’s still a volume of virgin plastic that will be included in the production of our plastic bottles. We’re looking at ways to continue increasing the volume of virgin plastic made from bio-based feedstock, in order to pursue our vision for a true circular economy.

What’s the science behind PlantBottle?
Put simply, PlantBottle plastic comes from plants rather than petroleum. To manufacture PET – the resin that most plastic beverage bottles are made from – you need to mix two raw materials: monoethylene glycol (MEG) and terephthalic acid (PTA). These traditionally come from oil or petroleum. In PlantBottle, the MEG comes from renewable sources. PTA is still derived from oil-based materials, but we’re working on developing the next generation of PlantBottle, which will also use bio-based PTA.  

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