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Nov. 24, 2009

Green Supply Chain News: Coke Rolls Out New Plastic Bottle made in Part from Plant Material



30% Made from Sugar Cane, but Still Fully Recyclable; Goal is 100%, Company Says
By The Green Supply Chain Editorial Staff

The Coca-Cola Company made a hit with environmentalists last week when it announced a new “plastic” soda bottle that is made, in part, from sugar cane and molasses-based materials.

Dubbed the “PlantBottle,” Coke will use the new material in a variety of package sizes for both its carbonated drinks, as well as its Dasani water brand. The new bottles are already being used in Denmark, with a rapid roll-out planned around the globe. The company says it plans to use 2 billion PlantBottles by the end of 2010. In the US, that will start with a West coast roll-out in early January.


The Green Supply Chain Says:
Recycling is actually a huge issue with regards to “Green” beverage containers.

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Traditionally, plastic soft drink bottles are made out of polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, a form of polyester made, ultimately, from petroleum.


The new packaging still contains some 70% oil-based plastic material, but will now also be made using plant-based raw materials for the other 30% of the total.


According to Coke, a PlantBottle PET bottle feels like traditional PET plastic and will have the same weight.  It is also recyclable, easing the concerns of some that the plant bottle would not be able to be recycled in combination with 100% PET containers. Coke says the bottle is still considered to be made of PET plastic despite the new plant-based materials in use.


Recycling is actually a huge issue with regards to “Green” beverage containers. For example, a company called NatureWorks markets the "100 percent renewable" Primo brand of bottled water, made of compostable bio-resin. The problem: the bottle can’t be mixed with traditional PET bottles in a recycling plant. That means somewhere along the reverse logistics chain that someone must separate a bottle that looks like conventional plastic – an expensive proposition.


With the PlantBottle, Coke went the other way, according to Scott Vitters, the company's director of sustainable packaging.


"We decided biodegradability from a full life-cycle point of view because when you compost you lose the energy of the materials, they just go back in the dirt," Vitters said last week.


"What you really want is a loop – to reclaim those materials again and again," Vitters added. “So the PlantBottle, though 30 percent plant material, is chemically no different than conventional plastic. The challenge for us is to keep pushing to get the remaining 70 percent and eliminate the petroleum source completely."


Earlier this year, Coke opened the world's largest plastic bottle-to-bottle recycling plant. The $80-million facility in Spartanburg, S.C., one of six similar plants the firm has invested in around the world, is recycling about 40 million kilograms of plastic bottles per year.


According to the company, its preliminary research had shown that the growing of the plant materials and resin production techniques mean that the carbon footprint for the PlantBottle packaging is up to 25% lower than for bottles made with traditional PET.


It is not clear if the new PlantBottle costs any more for Coca-Cola to produce than a traditional PET bottle. Regardless, Coke made a large investment in R&D for the PlantBottle, which it hopes will result in a sale or market share lift to payoff.


To identify the product, Coke says the bottles will contain a special logo, and be supported for awhile by special in-store displays and signage.



What’s your reaction to the new Coke PlantBottle? Is the recycling issue going to look large as more companies experiment with different approaches to bottling materials? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback button below. is now Twittering! Follow us at

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