Consumption of plastic bottles for packaging is increasing globally, with the number expected to reach around 227 million this year. Most of these bottles are made from fossil fuels, especially petroleum. Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) is the fastest growing category of the bottles being produced.
Plastic bottles as a whole present a number of problems to developed and developing economies. These include high greenhouse gas emissions during production and incineration, the physical pollution of oceanic waters and health complications that result from burning them, to name just a few of the issues discussed in more detail in this article. While a lot has been done in regard to recycling plastic bottles over the past few decades - the majority are still not recycled. Much remains to be done.
The plastic bottle remains an economical fit replacement for glass bottles. In fact, recycling a PET bottle is better, in regard to greenhouse gas emissions, than producing a new one or burning an existing bottle.
Carbon emission reduction initiatives relating to plastic bottles
How do you substantially reduce carbon emissions from a cheap product that is increasingly being demanded as economies grow around the world? For about seven years now, the world has enjoyed the use of a plastic bottle made of 30% plant material and 70% from fossil fuels. The product, known as PlantBottle, was launched by Coca Cola in 2009. The result has been tremendous, with Coca Cola reporting cutting down emissions by about 315, 00 metric tons of carbon dioxide after their first PlantBottle was launched in 2009. The plant material used to make part of the plastic component is being sourced from sugar cane. The traditional PET bottle which is made from 100% fossil fuels achieves a higher carbon foot print. Manufacturing of PET traditionally produces around 3 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2).
The race to environmentally sustainable packaging is still on and changes underway should enable even greater improvements. Coca Cola earlier this month launched a PlantBottle made of 100% plant material. The initiative will mark a big global step towards reducing the carbon footprint produced from plastics. Eliminating reliance of fossil fuels in production of bottles will finally have substantial overall impact - 75% of global carbon emissions come from burning fossil fuels such as oil and gas, and from making cement and thus reduction of burning of fossils when producing these bottles would be considerable.
Reducing use of fossil fuels and related costs: a win-win
The 100% renewable PlantBottle will not only reduce carbon dioxide emissions but completely eliminate dependence on fossil fuels for production of plastic bottles. Crude oil is used in two ways in producing plastics: by products of petroleum refining as raw material and as an energy source during production process. The saving on emissions achieved by the 30% renewable bottle were equivalent to saving 400,000 barrels of oil. Reduction of use of oil in producing plastic bottles is considerable since burning a kg of oil creates about 33 kg of carbon dioxide for raw materials and energy during production of the traditional PET bottle. Reducing dependency on oil for production of PETs will, together with reduction of its use in generation of energy, help developing countries that continue to incur higher costs of petroleum imports. Although developing nations are not the highest producers of carbon emissions today, continued use of fossil fuels in Africa could, along with current economic growth trajectories, make these developing nations surpass developed nations in carbon emissions by around 2040. We've already seen China become the world's greatest emitter and India's emissions trajectory is rapidly increasing. At Cleanleap we believe it's absolutely critical other emerging economies don't follow the same path in addition to the current larger emitters making deep cuts.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said last year that the use of plastics in the consumer goods sector leads to incurring natural capital cost of US$75 billion annually around the world. 30% of the cost was due to their green gas emissions during processing and burning.
Other firms have welcomed this technology
The percentage of PlantBottles being used as a whole worldwide is further less when you compare to the current total global consumption of plastic bottles. Therefore, adoption and acceptance of this technology by other companies will be crucial. Other companies have also started adopting the innovation, leading to further saving of petroleum. Heinz is using the PlantBottle technology for its Ketchup bottle, SeaWorld for some test models of the Fusion Energi hybrid sedan and Coca Cola is working with others such as Nike and Procter & Gamble. This marks the beginning of the application of the PlantBottle technology in other areas than bottling, which is considerable given that bottles account for only 30% of PET produced.
Coca cola is leading in technology innovation of bottles made from plants but others are getting in on the act
Ford Motor Company has also said it would use the PlantBottle packaging solution for interior fabric surfaces on its models to test the market. Toyota has also been interested in employing the technology for its seats. Coca Cola also wants to have all its beverage packaging use the new PlantBottle by 2020 and want to recover 50% of its PET bottles consumed globally through recycling by 2015. The Global Head of Sustainable Packaging at Coca-Cola was quoted as saying the sustainability initiative could spread to use in other plastics such as polyethylene, films and even PVC. The company has also previously made HDPE bottle from 100% plant materials, but as is now known, HDPE bottles are not useful in packaging beverages because of its higher gas permeability and not good for bottling water as it is not glass clear. In addition to the use of PlantBottle, Coca Cola has also launched a lighter weight PET bottle in packaging its AVRA mineral water and the Bottle-To-Bottle and Bottle-Fibre recycling initiatives.
100% recyclable and applicable in other packaging fields
While PlantBottle is argued to be expensive, 100% PET are also prone to pricing fluctuations due to fluctuating prices of petroleum. The plant bottle, although not biodegradable, can be recycled over and over again like the ordinary PET bottle made from fossil fuels. We also know that recycling of plastic bottles gives less carbon emission than producing new ones and burning them. It is also the reason recyclable bottles that are preferred than biodegradable bottles. The 100% renewable PlantBottle can also be used for packaging water, juice, tea and other beverages. The company launched its use of PlantBottle in Africa by investing in a water packaging plant in South Africa in 2013.
Use of second generation technologies makes it viable for developing countries
This PlantBottle technology, if not handled carefully, could destroy lives by pushing food prices higher and diverting land needed for use to feed rising population especially in developing countries where many live in poverty. This is the reason Coca Cola has said it will proceed cautiously by considering second-generation technologies focused on agricultural waste, such as switch grass, pine bark, corn husks and fruit peel. Opponents argue that producing the PlantBottle could cause food shorted as agricultural products are shifted to the but evidence from Brazil case shows otherwise - sugarcane supply has not decreased in the country since it started being used for production of the PlantBottle. Food supply has also not decreased. In reality, the new initiative could only mark as a diversification for farming individual crops, which is good news for farmers in relation to getting more markets. Brazil is one of the countries where a manufacturing plant for the bottles has been set up due to availability of raw materials. With growth in demand, it is likely that similar plants could be set up elsewhere. The technology is also gaining ground, which means there could be new ways in future to absorb its associated high costs of production in comparison to the 100% fossil fuel PET bottle.