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This plastic drinks bottle is made from plants

Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are among companies moving away from traditional plastics and exploring plant-based alternatives. Image: REUTERS/Enny Nuraheni

Plastic has transformed many aspects of daily life, from keeping food fresh to ensuring medical supplies stay sterile.

But in recent years it has become public enemy number one – almost entirely because of the way it is dealt with after it has been used. Buried in landfill, it will stay there for hundreds of years. It releases toxic fumes into the atmosphere if incinerated. And far too much ends up in the world’s oceans.

Stemming the tide of plastic pollution calls for a combination of measures. One of which will be finding alternatives to some of the commonest uses of traditional plastic, such as the drinks bottle – something two of the giants of the global beverage world are taking steps to do.

Image: BBC/Euromonitor

 

At the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting of the New Champions in Dalian, China, this July, Shell Huang Xiaoyan, Vice-President, Research and Development, Asia at Coca-Cola showed off one of the company’s new plant-based plastic alternatives. She described developing the PlantBottle as the “biggest honour” in her career.

It’s a 100% recyclable material, and since its initial launch in 2009 it has helped Coca-Cola reduce its emissions by the equivalent of one million vehicles. Now, the company has opened the bottle’s patent to the public so other developers and manufacturers can use it.

PLASTIC

What is the World Economic Forum doing about ending plastic pollution?

More than 90% of plastic is never recycled, and a whopping 8 million metric tons of plastic waste are dumped into the oceans annually. At this rate, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050.

The World Economic Forum has played a crucial role in connecting TerraCycle, a global waste management and recycling company, with logistics giant UPS and some of the world’s leading retailers and consumer goods companies (including Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, Carrefour, Tesco, Mondelēz, PepsiCo, Danone, Mars, Nestlé and Unilever) to develop and pilot a revolutionary zero-waste e-commerce system called Loop.

Loop promotes responsible consumption and eliminates waste by introducing a new way for consumers to purchase, enjoy and recycle their favorite products. Instead of relying on single-use packaging, it delivers products to consumers’ doorsteps in durable packaging that is collected, cleaned, refilled and reused, sometimes more than 100 times.

The Loop Model.

The Loop Model.

The Forum is helping the Loop Alliance bring the Loop model to cities around the world. Read more in our Impact Story.

Partner with us and join the global mission to end plastic pollution.

Meanwhile, PepsiCo – that other giant of the food and beverage world – is also making headway in rethinking its packaging materials.

Its Aquafina water brand will be available in aluminium cans, rather than plastic bottles. Lifewtr will be packaged in recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET) and Bubly sparkling water will no longer be packaged in plastic at all.

 

The company also has a series of sustainable packaging goals it hopes to hit by 2025, including designing all of its packaging to be recyclable, compostable or biodegradable.

Coca-Cola and PepsiCo’s advances aren’t the only examples of new materials that offer potentially more environmentally friendly alternatives to conventional packaging.

There are straws made from seaweed, bags that dissolve in water, and a film made from crab shells and cellulose that its makers say can outperform plastic at keeping food fresh.

Tackling the problem of plastic pollution, though, will also need a series of joined-up interventions, while accepting that it continues to play a vital role in 21st-century life.

That’s likely to call for grassroots clean-up campaigns, better and more consistent recycling infrastructure and policies, and a reduced reliance on single-use plastic in all but essential cases.

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