Know Your Plastics: What is the PlantBottle?

Bioplastics can be confusing because we aren’t all chemists and we’re happy to gather from a quick glance that a brand we buy is making some kind of effort regarding the environment.  According to a 2010 Beveragepulse survey cited by Pepsico, 94% of consumers “are concerned about the environmental effects of beverage packaging.”  We have expectations that companies are reducing environmental impacts wherever they can, but we often don’t dig too deeply into the green achievements that companies tout.

Coke Plant Bottle Logo

Coke PlantBottle Logo

We’ve looked at greenwashed conventional fossil fuel plastics, and we’ve looked at bioplastics made from plant starch like corn-derived polylactic acid (PLA). In this post we’ll take a look at yet another category of bioplastic, exemplified by Coke’s PlantBottle. Simply put, the PlantBottle is made from PET (polyethylene terephthalate).  30% of the PET  in the bottle comes from plant-derived ethanol (in this case sugar cane waste), not oil or gas, and is therefore a renewable feedstock.

Lloyd Alter at TreeHugger has an excellent post on the promotion of bottled water in “eco” bottles.  His big-picture conclusion:

The issue isn’t what plastic the bottle is made of, the issue is the bottle itself, the fact that for most of us, buying bottled water means that we are paying Coke and Pepsi for a product that is fresher, safer and better-tasting out of the tap. We are letting Coke and Pepsi frame the discussion about feedstocks when it should be about them.

Suffice it to say that Coke has made a PET bottle partially from renewable matter.  It is completely recyclable anywhere that #1 PET is recycled. Still, it is a PET bottle, with all of the pitfalls, and despite being made partially from plants it cannot be “returned to nature”  through composting.

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