How ‘green’ is my bottle?

By Janette Woodhouse
Tuesday, 31 July, 2012

The big players in the beverage industry are all seeking the ‘Green Grail’ - packaging for soft drinks that they can present to the marketplace as ‘green’.

‘Green’ equates with a happy, ‘natural’ world where all is in harmony and our grandchildren will frolic in sylvan vales. In truth it is an emotive, high-value marketing word that can be twisted, interpreted and used in so many ways.

Coca-Cola and Pepsi are both publicly promoting their progress with ‘green’ PET. Once ‘green’ meant that the product had to be biodegradable but marketing had given us a new definition. It now must be 100% recyclable. A much better definition for soft drink manufacturers as PET is simply never going to be able to function as a drink bottle and then be biodegradable.

But recyclable - now that’s much more achievable. There is already infrastructure in place for recycling PET so all that is required is a carbon-neutral source of PET.

Coca-Cola is claiming “30% plant-based material” in its bottles. What it really means is that of the two chemicals needed to make PET (mono-ethylene glycol (MEG) and terapthalic acid (TA)) it can produce the ethanol used to make the MEG from plant-based materials on a commercial scale. MEG represents 30% of the total composition of PET plastic by weight.

On the other hand, in March last year, Pepsi claimed to have “developed the world’s first PET plastic bottle made entirely from plant-based, fully renewable resources, enabling the company to manufacture a beverage container with a significantly reduced carbon footprint. PepsiCo’s ‘green’ bottle is 100% recyclable and far surpasses existing industry technologies. The bottle is made from bio-based raw materials, including switch grass, pine bark and corn husks.”

But Coca-Cola’s Scott Vitters is asking “where is the bottle?” He says that Coke cannot find a single Pepsi ‘green bottle’ that is commercially available in the global marketplace. Having the technology is not enough - developing it on a commercial scale is what is going to count.

Both companies are genuinely trying to ‘do the right thing’. Coke has collaborated with other companies, including Ford, Proctor&Gamble, Nike and Heinz, in an effort to speed up the progress towards commercial solutions for green packaging.

I hope amongst all the marketing hype genuine ‘green’ technology prevails, not just in the source of the raw ingredients but also in the synthesis of the PET resin and the bottle forming, and final disposal.

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