Five Big American Businesses Teaming Up To Develop Plant-Based Plastic

Coca-Cola might be super proprietary about its secret soda formula, but when it comes to sharing technology that could help the earth, it’s willing to to spread the wealth with other big American businesses. Coca-Cola, Ford, Heinz, Nike and Procter & Gamble announced today they’ve teamed up to work on how to develop plant-based plastic material.

Coke has been using its “plant bottle” packaging technology, where bottles contain material derived from sugar cane for awhile, and has licensed the technology to Heinz already for some of its ketchup bottles, notes the Chicago Tribune.

And now the five companies say they’re committed to advancing research on the process and further developing a “commercially viable, sustainably sourced plastic made entirely from plant materials, while reducing the use of fossil fuels.”

Coke gets sugar cane-based ethanol from Brazilian plantations that it says are not near the Amazon rain forests. It’s also trying to find a way to capture sugar from plant waste.

The plant-based material could be used by the companies in the group for making anything from plastic bottles, to clothing, shoes and car fabric.

Ford, others join Coke in plant-based plastic venture [Chicago Tribune]

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  1. Cat says:

    Well, this won’t push up the price of food at all, no more than making gas out of food does.

    • Southern says:

      Actually, it shouldn’t.. The one Pepsi developed is 100% plant based, but it uses plant WASTE, or non-food materials to begin with.

      Switch grass, pine bark, corn husks. orange peels, potato peels, oat hulls, etc..

      I suppose that could affect the fertilizer industry somewhat though, since I’m sure many of those items now are composted into fertilizer..

      • Cat says:

        composted into fertilizer..

        Which is used to grow plants for food and livestock feed…

        Law of unintended consequences?

      • Cor Aquilonis says:

        Most fertilizers used nowadays are chemical. I’ve only seen one farmer spread compost on his field, and that was my grandpa spreading manure at his family farm. It’s just not how things are done right now.

    • Jawaka says:

      Put the tin foil hat away. If it does drive up costs it the increase won’t go straight into profits. Its going towards technology that can potentially help the environment. Surely you can afford an extra nickel per bottle for a good cause.

    • ianmac47 says:

      No, they are doing it to cut costs by reducing their need for highly violatile oil to make plastic containers and to turn waste plant material from processed food into a viable source of income. If they can develop a product that is then a major component of most packaging materials, instead of paying someone to dispose of their waste from processing food, someone will pay them to turn it into plastic. By dividing the cost between multiple companies, they achieve the same results faster, cheaper and with less risk while simultaneously achieving all the benefits.

  2. MaxH42 thinks RecordStoreToughGuy got a raw deal says:

    Plant-based plastics already exist, but I’m not aware of any that are transparent, which may be something they want for soda bottles. or strong enough to hold a carbonated beverage.

    If anyone’s interested, take a look at Biobags and Annie Chun’s noodle bowls.

    • Southern says:

      Check out Pepsi’s.

      http://articles.latimes.com/2011/mar/15/business/la-fi-pepsi-20110315

      (A full year earlier, btw – this one is 100% plant based, but it’s still not biodegradable. They just use plants instead of petroleum).

      • MaxH42 thinks RecordStoreToughGuy got a raw deal says:

        Well that sucks. The ones I linked to are biodegradable, although they may not completely break down in a normal landfill or home compost pile. I have access to industrial composting though, and that’s where my empty Annie Chun bowls go. I guess it’s good they’re using plant waste instead of petroleum products, but I was hoping they would develop a compostable plastic like the cornstarch-based ones I mentioned, but that was stronger and transparent.

        • Southern says:

          They can still recycle the Pepsi ones through existing recycling programs though, so really the only thing we’re gaining in the process is that the materials are 100% renewable.

          It would be nice if they were biodegradable, though.

          I wonder if we’ll ever go back to glass containers.. At least that is 100% recyclable back into more glass. :)

    • Warren - aka The Piddler on the Roof says:

      We have clear cups where I work that are made from corn.

  3. evilpete says:

    Gee, plant based plastic, non recyclable, non biodegradable landfill.

    The only reason they are doing this is cause oil is pricey, there is nothing green about this

    • MonkeyMonk says:

      Agreed. We can recycle just about any numbered plastic here EXCEPT plant-based plastics because they’re considered a contaminant to the recycling stream.

    • Southern says:

      Just because it’s not biodegradable doesn’t make it evil; It’s still 100% renewable (at least in the Pepsi method. Not so much the Coca-Cola one.)

  4. TheMansfieldMauler says:

    Burn corn for gasoline, make containers from sugar. Policies that have kept oil so high for so long are starting to take their effect – and the effect is that both food and gasoline are more expensive. It’s a consumption premium. Eventually we’ll all be equal, and we’ll all be equally poor.

    • Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ã‚œ-゜ノ) says:

      What are you talking about? We’re doing fine!

      Love,
      Saudi Prince

      • pythonspam says:

        “What are you talking about? We’re doing fine!

        Love,
        Saudi Princess, who actually paid the hotel bill racked up by her and her entourage”

        FTFY

  5. iesika says:

    Yes, this is a PR move, and probably a cost-cutting one, but you know what? I’m okay with that.

    Bring on the plant plastics. It makes a lot more sense than ethanol as fuel, anyway.

  6. ferozadh says:

    Cool. I’m glad to see there are still smart people who can see the end of dependence on crude and work towards better sustainability. Although we’ll still have people buying pallets of bottled water, at least this will lessen the impact on the environment.

    • YouDidWhatNow? says:

      Too bad there’s still people who are too dim to see that this would quickly require either dedicated crops (stealing arable land from food…or, clearcutting more forests) and/or taking actual food crops to make plastic.

      In all ways, the environment loses on this. Wake the f%ck up.

  7. Bluth_Cornballer says:

    So Coke will use sugar cane in the plastic used to make the bottle… but not in the actual Coke inside the bottle.

    Got it.

  8. hexx says:

    I’d rather Coke spend it’s time and money using that Brazillian sugar in their products instead of high fructose corn syrup.

    • Nidoking says:

      Coming in 2014: HFCS-based plastic.

      • scoosdad says:

        “….because your body can’t tell the difference. Plastic… is plastic.”

        brought to you by the Corn Plastic Association.

    • Southern says:

      Depending on where you are, you might be able to find Coke that’s imported from Mexico.. We’ve got them in pretty much all the supermarkets here in Houston.

      They use real sugar (I don’t know if it’s Brazilian or not) in those.

      I can’t comment on the taste, never tried one. I avoid soda (HFCS or sugar, doesn’t matter) like the plague. :)

      • elangomatt says:

        The problem with that is that you can get a bottle of Mexican coke around here (near Chicago) easily enough, but it costs 99 cents for the 16 oz bottle. Alternatively you can get HFCS coke for $1.49 for 2 liters or $4 for a 12 pack of cans.

        • Southern says:

          They’re the same price here.. $1.00 for the 16oz tall glass bottle.

          I didn’t say they were cheap. :)

        • whogots is "not computer knowledgeable" says:

          I don’t have a problem with the higher price of MexiCoke. I know I shouldn’t drink _either_ kind regularly, and the price is reasonable for a rare treat.

        • Cor Aquilonis says:

          What you call a bug, I call a feature.

        • Awesome McAwesomeness says:

          That’s great though b/c you end up drinking less (hopefully.) If people would stop seeing soda as a replacement for water and start seeing it as an occasional treat, we wouldn’t be such a country of fat asses.

          • elangomatt says:

            Well I don’t drink very much soda at all anymore, but I get your point. I was just pointing out that many many many people don’t really care what the are consuming as long as they managed to get it at the cheapest price possible per ounce or whatever. I definitely care more about quality than quantity these days though with so many foods going to the cheapest possible ingredients to help their bottom line.

  9. Mark702 says:

    The answer is called HEMP. It’s sustainable, environmentally friendly, and produce 4 times as much oxygen per acre than trees do. Hemp can be made into a green alternative to petroleum-based plastics which would include soda bottles and millions of other plastic products.

    Hemp can also be used as an alternative to cardboard and cotton products, which would include hundreds of thousands of products including fast food containers, clothing of all sorts, napkins, paper towels, paper and plastic store bags (we decompose within a year or two, not centuries or more). Look up hemp on youtube for more, there’s even a hemp car with tires made with hemp turned into a rubber-like material and hemp used in the interior panels in both plastic and cardboard form. That doesn’t even include all the healthy foods that can be made with hemp seed!

    Of course, with the moron Feds still having an un-Constitutional and illegal cannabis prohibition in effect, we cannot produce it here in the US, despite the fact that states like Oregon and Montana have laws at state level allowing for hemp to be grown as an industrial crop. Despite the production ban, we are still allowed to IMPORT hemp products from China, Canada, and European countries.

    • HogwartsProfessor says:

      I agree with this. I wrote an article about hemp clothing for the content job I had last year, and the research really opened my eyes. Frankly, I think people who sit around and smoke the non-industrial marijuana for fun are idiots (sorry, it messes up your head and smoking ANYTHING isn’t good for your lungs). But holy crap, is hemp useful. Not to mention, it’s very sustainable and doesn’t require huge amounts of evil chemicals to grow it. Yeah!

      • Mark702 says:

        Cannabis use isn’t only for idiots, only an idiot would think that. By the same rationale, alcohol is only for drunkards and alcoholics right? Truth is, cannabis is safer than tobacco, all types of alcohols, caffeine products like sodas / energy drinks / coffees, and even safer than fast food. The science shows that cannabis smoke is non-toxic, doesn’t cause emphysema or black lung, doesn’t cause any cancers and has actually been shown to reduce lung & throat cancer risk by 60% vs people who smoke NOTHING at all, not compared to tobacco smokers.

        On top of all that, cannabis doesn’t have to be smoked to begin with, it’s only done that way because it’s the most cost effective with the black market prohibition policy in place. Larger quantities like multiple ounces (which cost $100+ each now, but a bottle of beer was also $10-20 during prohibition, adjusted for inflation) can be used to make edibles like brownies or crispy treats. It can be made into most anything with fat, so cakes, cookies, even marinara sauce.

        Along with edibles, you can get mouth sprays, you can use a vaporizer, you can get a liquid drop tincture, they even make it into drinks similar to microbrewery beers.

      • Mark702 says:

        Also, alcohol is a poisonous, deadly intoxicant that “messes up your head” as you say. It kills brain cells, where as cannabis does not kill brain cells, and a study by a Chinese university in 2009 showed that cannabis can actually induce NEW brain cell growth. I and the rest of America was educated in schools to know that after adulthood, humans could not grow new brain cells and thus we should be careful when consuming alcohol. Turns out DARE was just a propaganda outlet spreading fear, lies, and outright garbage, not actual facts based on medicine and science. You learn something new every day…

    • Warren - aka The Piddler on the Roof says:

      I’m wearing a hemp shirt right now! Hah! ;-D

  10. daemonaquila says:

    The reasons are obviously self serving – they want a cheaper source of materials and they like marketing themselves as “green.” But regardless, it’s a great move if it’s done right. If we start overfarming just to supply the world’s bio-plastic market, we haven’t really gotten the point or solved any problems. We have to start cutting down on all these bottles and recycling the plastics we do have to use, period.

  11. Blueskylaw says:

    Is this their way of adding extra corn to my already
    heavily laden high fructose corn syrup product?

  12. polishhillbilly says:

    Glass Bottles.. Go Back to them

  13. Moniker Preferred says:

    TANSTAAFL.

    There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. The world wants zillions of bottles, the world’s pay, whether glass, PET, aluminum, or something else. Oil-based plastics are going to become prohibitively expensive. Good that someone is working hard on an alternative.

    The article isn’t clear about whether the collaboration is working making cellulosic alcohol from sugar cane remains, but I suspect that is the case. You wring easy to get sugar out of the cane, and use the fibrous remains to generate alcohol. The trick is to do it cost-effectively.

    PET doesn’t degrade very well, but is is VERY good at being recycled. Especially true for bottles, since they are almost pure PET. Ford has been making car parts out of plant-based plastics and recycled bottles for a long time, so there is a natural fit between first-time users of PET and 2nd generation users. Plant-based source + recycling is not a bad goal. Every state should enact a $1 per bottle charge which you get back when you return or recycle them. That will pretty much ensure that very few PET bottles go into landfills.

    Here’s a much more informative article

    http://www.cnbc.com/id/47688664/Coca_Cola_Ford_Heinz_Nike_and_Procter_Gamble_Form_Collaborative_to_Accelerate_Development_of_Products_Made_Entirely_from_Plants_Five_Global_Companies_Demonstrate_Their_Strong_Commitment_to_Sustainable_Innovation

    • Southern says:

      Don’t give them any ideas for yet-another money grab. They did this with glass bottles back in the 80s and all it did was give the homeless/poor population a way to make money by traipsing up and down the streets, highways and interstates.

      Besides, if you make the deposit on the bottles prohibitively expensive, all that will do is force people to other types of containers, like Styrofoam, which is by far the worst container you could possibly use, from an environmental standpoint.

  14. Kisses4Katie says:

    I’m all for this!! Has any one else heard of the pacific garbage mass? Seriously.

  15. YouDidWhatNow? says:

    This is not a good thing. If you disagree, you’re wrong. Here’s why:

    Using any food plant, like sugar, for any non-food use (like fuel) is a catastrophically moronic idea, as it directly decreases the food supply and increases food cost…and in the end, causes more clearcutting of land to get more tillable soil.

    Using any dedicated crop, of any kind, for any non-food use, is a catastrophically moronic idea, as it directly decreases the food supply and increases cost because the arable land that was used to grow it wasn’t used to grow food. And/or because it will cause more clearcutting of land to get more tillable soil.

    Similar to people saying “we’ll grow switchgrass to make ethanol! it’s not a food plant! yay!” the fact that the crop itself isn’t directly a food crop is utterly irrelevant. Any land used to grow a plant that isn’t meant for food decreases the food supply and/or increases food costs – period, end of story. There is no possible way out of that, and if you think there is, you’re stupid.

    Coke gets a massive F- for even considering using sugar for such a purpose. And only a straight F if they wind up using much of anything else…

    …with the one possible exception being plant matter that is well and truly utterly useless for any other purpose, but which we have anyway…like ditchweed. Mow that sh1t up and do whatever you want with it…the problem there is manifold though…not only is ditchweed by it’s very nature not a localized crop that’d be easy to cultivate (it’s not in nice large chunks of farmland…it’s in little strips along every road in the world), but the real problem kicks in if you manage to be successful.

    …yeah, being successful could be a real downer…if you’re so successful that you wind up needing more plant matter than the existing ditchweed can provide. Then you’re right back to having to grow a dedicated crop.

    So unless someone can demostrate how you can acquire enough plant matter to make such an enterprise commercially viable without f%cking the environment over (and food supply/cost), we need to all stop pretending this BS is a good idea.

    • GrimJack says:

      So, you’re basically saying that anyone that disagrees with any element of your argument is an idiot? I appreciate your confidence, but you are a bit misguided (and haughty).

      If you concentrate on biofuel feedstock like switchgrass or other cellulose-based plants you can grow it on land that is generally considered to be unattractive for general agriculture. Make biofuel from corn? Sure, that land is better used in food production. But what percentage of arable land in the US is used for food production and what percentage is prairie, pasture, etc.? Using that land to grow woody feedstock for biofuel production does not reduce land used for food agriculture, nor does it remove forests or other biomes.

      And, by the way, modern, high-yield agriculture burns fossil fuels at an alarming rate (machinery, fertilizer, etc.). Once that oil runs out, what effect will that have on food production? I’d rather we focus on a self-sustaining solution – you may lose some food production in the near term, but in the long term you haven’t painted yourself into a corner…