No Biodegradable, Compostable Packaging for Coca-Cola and Heinz

In its 2009/2010 sustainability report, Coca-Cola gave a hostile assessment of biodegradable drinks packaging. It said: “A one-use bottle is simply not a viable option for our business.”

The soft drinks giant explained: “While biodegradable packaging can be a sound choice for products that are not commercially recyclable, the process of capturing the embodied energy and raw materials in beverage bottles for reuse through recycling is, in our view, a much better option.”

It is important to read that one of the largest user of beverage bottles points out the absurdity of biodegradable and/or compostable packaging, while no infrastructure is in place to reasonably meet the problems created by so called bio-plastics.

The answer of Coca-Cola is the recyclable PlantBottle. The PlantBottle looks, feels and functions like traditional PET plastic and remains fully recyclable.

Coca-Cola first launched the PlantBottle in 2009 on brands that included Coke, Sprite, Fresca and Dasani water. By using the PlantBottle across multiple brands, the company has significantly reduced its dependence on non-renewable resources. An initial life-cycle analysis conducted by the Imperial College London showed that the use of the PlantBottle provides a 12% to 19% reduction in carbon impact. In 2010 alone, the packaging eliminated the equivalent of almost 30,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, or approximately 60,000 barrels of oil.

Coca-Cola stresses that the only difference between a traditional PET bottle and a PlantBottle is that up to 30% of the material is made from plants. The plant material is produced through an innovative process that turns natural sugars found in plants into a key component for PET plastic. Currently, PlantBottle is made using sugarcane ethanol from Brazil.

Although the PlantBottle is a much better option than the biodegradable and compostable bottle in general, I still have objections to the PlantBottle and sincerely hope that Coca-Cola will meet that objections in the near future and fulfil its promise, made in 2009, that it is also exploring the use of other plant materials (read biomass or plant residues) for future generations of the PlantBottle.

What objections? Well, the ‘plant part’ of the bottle is derived from Brazilian sugarcane. To meet the explosive demand worldwide for ethanol derived from sugarcane, the Brazilian sugarcane planters are pushing the cattle breeders more and more away from the traditional areas, who in their turn burn the Cerrado, the Pantanal and the Amazon forest for more pasture. Three of the world’s most rich biomes are seriously threatened by the explosive demand of ethanol from sugarcane. (Read my articles about this subject: “The Amazon and the Pantanal Free of Sugarcane? Well, Sort of” and “The Cerrado Suffers Worse Than The Amazon”)

But whatever Coca-Cola will do in the future, it has to be said that the PlantBottle is a much better solution than the illogically lauded biodegradable and compostable alternative. Unfortunately the environmental credentials of biodegradable and compostable bottles, typically made from corn-based PLA (polylactic acid), sit well with green-minded, albeit mindless consumers.

And H.J. Heinz Co. follows in the footsteps of Coca-Cola when they announced the biggest change to its ketchup bottles since the company first introduced its plastic packaging in 1983. Heinz is planning to convert all its 20-oz ketchup bottles to PlantBottle packaging in the USA this summer. The new packaging is the result of a strategic partnership between the Coca-Cola Co. and Heinz.

Heinz plans to introduce 120 million PlantBottles in 2011. In time, the plastic Heinz Ketchup bottles globally will be made from PlantBottle, and by 2020, Coca-Cola’s goal is to transition all of its plastic packaging to PlantBottle.

Hasso von Pogrell, managing director of European Bioplastics, states, that the broader bio-packaging concept has a promising future in the sector. Pogrell praised the PlantBottle from Coca-Cola saying it may be considered a bio-plastic product because renewable resources are used in its manufacture and it is suitable for recycling alongside ordinary PET.

Albeit I have expressed some objections, I’m glad that Coca-Cola as well as Heinz decided against the biodegradable, compostable packaging. Mankind shouldn’t use food crop neither for fuel nor for packaging.
The idiocy of PepsiCo with its Frito-Lay ‘noiseless’ compostable PLA chips pouch shouldn’t be lauded, let alone followed by others. There aren’t sufficient composting facilities available for the public, consequently the PLA pouch ends up either at the roadside, in the landfill or in the recycling stream. A headache in all three cases.

10 responses to “No Biodegradable, Compostable Packaging for Coca-Cola and Heinz

  1. Up to 30% biosourced? This is “green?” What about the other 70% (it’s just 20-80 if you go by carbon atoms)?
    If you buy Coke in 2-l PET and Heinz in bigger bottles made of 100% petrobased PET, you’ll use the same or LESS petro-based carbon than the equivalent in smaller “20%-plantBottles.”
    Do the math: a 2-l (70-oz) bottle (no cap, no label) is around 50 gm, all petro-based.
    The equivalent 3.5 20-oz bottles weigh around 70 grams together, so if 70-80% is plant-based, that is 49 to 56 grams petro-based!
    Why aren’t the eco-watchers telling us to use more bigger bottles (and to insist on single-bagging at the supermarket checkout counter)?

  2. Ok, are they not quite aware of peak oil yet? We need to see some serious improvements in innovation and sustainability. Research on these attempts may be better used for developing our alternate energy infrastructure. It seems as though we are more concerned for how we will get our coke fix.

  3. All that I am trying to say is that everywhere I look I see another article about product packaging innovations, what I would rather see is major advances and government funding for alternate energy. It seems as consumers we are more concerned with avoiding eco-guilt when buying our chips and pop than letting our leaders know that they need to be spending money (like coca-cola) on research and innovation.

    • Dear Tracy, try google and you will find as many websites as you want talking about alternate energy. Re. packaging: packaging is avoiding the increase in food waste, and as packaging is an essential part of our life, it is a good thing that so much time is ‘wasted’ discussing ecological alternatives. Again try google.

  4. It is awesome to see big business stepping up in the last few years to make changes in areas that affect our lives. I saw some report recently on some news show like fox news and The Journal with Joan lunden on PBS that were talking about the importance of industry stepping it up in recycling. If other companies begin to follow Heinz and coke, over time it could drastically reduce effects we will see in the future.

  5. I am not sure where the author is getting his facts from, surely he/she is aware that PLA is not produced from food crops! He/she is correct in saying that the infrastructure does not exist to recycle PLA at present but isnt that more reason to support this innovation? If we can get PLA to a critical mass then industry and government will be forced to implement the infrustructure and biopolymers like PLA can be fully recycled back into lactic acid instead of downcycled like this plant bottle thing. Ultimately all of this is useless unless consumers give more consideration to thier consumption and change thier attitudes towards waste…..stop drinking fizzy drinks, you will live longer, wont get fat and will reduce the burden you place on the environment.

    • Let’s keep the answer simple and use Wiki.
      “Polylactic acid or polylactide (PLA) is a thermoplastic aliphatic polyester derived from renewable resources, such as corn starch (in the United States), tapioca products (roots, chips or starch mostly in Asia) or sugarcanes (in the rest of world). It can biodegrade under certain conditions, such as the presence of oxygen, and is difficult to recycle”.
      That’s clear, right? Corn starch, tapioca and sugarcane.
      Corn starch is used as a thickening agent in soups and liquid-based foods, such as sauces, gravies and custards by mixing it with a cold liquid to form a paste or slurry.
      Called corn starch in the United States and Canada.
      Called cornflour in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Israel and some Commonwealth countries. Not to be confused with cornmeal.
      Often called maizena in the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Italy, Portugal, Norway, Denmark, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, South Africa, Latin America, and Indonesia, after the brand.
      We do eat it, right? In other words it is food.
      Tapioca is a starch extracted from cassava (Manihot esculenta). This species is native to Brazil but spread throughout the Americas. The plant was later spread by Portuguese and Spanish explorers to Africa, the Philippines and most of the West Indies, being now cultivated worldwide.
      In Brazilian cuisine, tapioca is used for different types of meals. In biju (or beiju), the tapioca is moistened, strained through a sieve to become a coarse flour, then sprinkled onto a hot griddle or pan, where the heat makes the starchy grains fuse into a tortilla, which is often sprinkled with coconut.
      I will refrain from showing you the use of tapioca as food in other countries. They are too obvious.
      Sugarcane belongs to the grass family (Poaceae), an economically important seed plant family that includes maize, wheat, rice, and sorghum and many forage crops. The main product of sugarcane is sucrose. Sucrose, extracted and purified, is used as raw material in human food industries. Brazil was the largest producer of sugar cane in the world.
      Unfortunately for you, sugarcane, tapioca and corn are using huge areas of arable land producing what should be food crops. Using these crops for plastic is immoral and ineffective as there are enough technologies available to create plastic from the residues of the food crops. Read articles about using bio-mass.
      And this only is some text from Wiki. Read the (scientific) reports or some of my articles I wrote about this subject. Use the search engine.

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