The Coca-Cola Company, Ford Motor Company, H.J. Heinz Company, NIKE, Inc. and Procter & Gamble have announced the formation of an organization to be known as the Plant PET Technology Collaborative (PTC). PTC will focus on accelerating the development and use of 100% plant-based PET materials and fiber in their products. PET, also known as polyethylene terephthalate, is most commonly recognized as the clear plastic material from which many water and beverage bottles are made but it is the same material as polyester fibre used for such items as clothing, footwear, and carpets.
Coca-Cola is currently using PET with up to 30% plant-based material in its own beverage packaging. Heinz has indicated that it will license the technology for some of its ketchup bottles. According to Coca-Cola, the plant-based component in its current bottles comes from ethanol from Brazilian sugarcane.
GallonDaily sees plant-based plastics as having a significant role and environmental benefit but only within limits. At production levels likely to be implemented within the next decade there is likely enough land that food production will not be threatened by biofuel and bioplastic production. Beyond that, however, constraints in the availability of agricultural land mean that we cannot replace all petroleum plastics used today with bioplastics. GallonDaily also wonders about the environmental efficiency of producing bioethanol as a raw material for bioplastics. Hopefully future research will find ways of converting biomass directly to plastic precursors without having to go through the highly energy intensive ethanol production process.
In view of the risks that plant-based plastics present, especially the risks that their energy-intensity could exceed that of conventional plastics and that food land and biodiversity could be threatened by conversion to land for plastics production, GallonDaily suggests to the Plant PET Technology Collaborative that it help establish a fully independent monitoring agency to report to the public on the actual environmental footprint of plant plastics and their impact on the planet’s ecosystems.
Bioplastics do not replace reduction and recycling as environmentally preferred options but bioplastics may help to reduce society’s environmental footprint in the short term. Fortunately the plant-based PET material that Coca-Cola has developed is chemically identical to PET from petroleum resources so the two can be collected and recycled together. Better recycling must remain a core objective of reducing our environmental footprint.
For more information about the Plant PET Technology Collaborative, the Coca-Cola press release can be found at http://www.thecoca-colacompany.com/dynamic/press_center/2012/06/pet-collaborative.html. More information about Coca-Cola’s PlantBottle is at http://www.thecoca-colacompany.com/citizenship/plantbottle.html