Coca-Cola is unveiling a fully plant-based PET (bPET) bottle prototype, excluding the cap and label. The beverage giant has produced a limited run of 900 bottles, confirming the prototypes are recyclable within existing recycling infrastructures, alongside PET from oil-based sources.
“For a long time, we have been working with partners to develop the right technologies to achieve 100% plant-based content, aiming for the lowest possible carbon footprint,” Nancy Quan, chief technical and innovation officer at Coca-Cola, points out.
“It’s exciting that we have reached a point where these technologies exist and can be scaled by participants in the value chain.”
The announcement comes as Coca-Cola secured a partnership with Changchun Meihe Science & Technology and UPM to convert upcycled biomass to plant-based monoethylene glycol (bMEG) on a commercial scale. bMEG is one of the two molecules required to produce bPET.
Coca-Cola indicates the prototype bottle represents a significant technological step forward in reducing virgin oil-based PET across commercially produced bottles. Importantly, the test bottles are produced using technologies ready to be commercially scaled across the industry.
The 100% bPET milestone
The bottle prototype is made by combining sugars converted from plant-based materials to form bMEG, and plant-based paraxylene (bPX), which, in turn, has been converted to plant-based terephthalic acid (bPTA).
“This is the first beverage packaging material resulting from plant-based paraxylene produced at demonstration scale,” highlights Coca-Cola.
The bPX for this bottle was produced using sugar from corn though UPM’s catalytic process. “However, commercial quantities from environmentally sustainable wood biomass will be available soon,” says the company.
Message in a bottle
Coca-Cola has long chased a plant-based plastic alternative, taking its first steps in this arena with the PlantBottle launch in 2009.
At the time, the PlantBottle was a recyclable PET bottle made with up to 30% plant-based material. By 2015, Coca-Cola had distributed more than 35 billion PlantBottles in nearly 40 countries.
Beverage brands ranging from Dasani to Coca-Cola to Gold Peak have found a home in the PlantBottle, which today accounts for 30% of the company’s packaging volume in North America and 7% globally.
By replacing up to 30% of the petroleum used to make PET plastic bottles with material from sugarcane and other plant matter, the PlantBottle has reportedly generated CO2 emissions savings equivalent to taking nearly one million vehicles off the road since 2009.
Since introducing the PlantBottle, Coca-Cola has allowed non-competitive companies to use the technology and brand their products – from Heinz Tomato Ketchup to the fabric interior in certain Ford Fusion hybrid sedans.
Plant-based plastics and beyond
Amid scrutiny for being one of the world’s most polluting companies, Coca-Cola announced its World Without Waste commitment in 2018, aiming to collect and recycle the equivalent of one bottle for every bottle sold by 2030.
Coca-Cola has also pledged to be net-zero carbon and use 3 million tons less virgin plastic from oil-based sources by 2025. “Depending on business growth, this would result in approximately 20% less virgin plastic derived from fossil fuels worldwide than today,” highlights the company.
In the past year, Coca-Cola made significant strides with paper bottle company Paboco to develop a recyclable paper bottle for non-alcoholic stills and sparkling drinks, which has already been trialed in Hungary.
The “first-generation” prototype consists of a paper shell with a closure and liner made from fully recycled PET. Paboco’s business development manager shared more about the “stepwise” technical approach to creating the prototype in an exclusive interview with PackagingInsights.
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