Coca-Cola’s PlantBottle – A big fuss about nothing?

Coca-Cola first introduced PlantBottle packaging (Winner of the DuPont Award for Packaging Innovation)  in 2009 and therefore came one step further to accomplishing its goal of a carbon neutral, 100 % renewable, responsibly sourced bottle that is fully recycable.

Coca-Cola states that, so far, PlantBottle is available in nine countries such as Japan, Mexico and Norway. In 2011 and the coming years, Coca-Cola plans to launch further production facilities to make their packaging a valuable resource for future use.

The company points out that in 2010 their goal of producing 2 billion bottles was already exceeded by 500 million bottles. Still, Coca-Cola is planning to double the production as well as investing to transition all of their plastic packaging to PlantBottle packaging.

The Difference between PlantBottle Packaging and Traditional PET Plastic Bottles

As Coca-Cola explains, the main difference between PlantBottles and normal plastic bottles is the use of materials that are up to 30% plants-based (for PlantBottles) rather than using nonrenewable resources (petroleum). This way, some of the planets‘ resources can be saved which enhances the environmental benefit associated with PlantBottle packaging.

Currently, the materials used for the plant-based materials consist of processed sugar cane which is grown in Brazil. Coca-Cola emphasizes that their sugar cane plantations are far away from the Amazon rain forests, and their impact on biodiversity is limited thanks to good farming practices and sound public policy.


30% Plant-based Material – And the remaining 70%?

Even though Coca-Cola is heading in the right direction, Christopher Davies  points out that they are still far from reaching their intended goal of creating a 100% plant-based bottle. Not only are they using a petroleum based compound to manufacture their bottles, but they are also buying vast amounts of sugar cane from Brazil which inevitably will drive prices up and put a further strain on resources.

Green, but not Fair?

As Anna comments in her post “Green, but not Fair? Looking closer at Coca Cola’s PlantBottle” Coca-Cola’s PlantBottles” are not biodegradable which means that they can not be broken down by biological agents such as bacteria so that the carbon in the substance can be used in living organisms.

In this case, Scott Vitters, general manager of Coca-Cola’s PlantBottle Packaging Platform, actually made a statement to why the Coca-Cola Company prefers recyclable bottles rather than biodegradable products:

It sounds really good—made from nature, back to nature. But for plastic bottles, it is much preferable to recover the material and use it again and again. So it’s not about designing it to be biodegradable. It’s about making a closed loop.

Anna also mentions that farmers in Brazil face the threat of being pushed from their land to make way for the big sugar cane plantations. Coca-Cola does not provide any specific policies and only gives vague statements when it comes to the treatment of farmers on their Brazilian sugar cane plantations.

Another point that might raise questions is why Coca-Cola filed a patent that only gives them the right to use the plant-based PET. One might question if this actually matches their objective of improving sustainability throughout the world.

PlantBottle – Fuss or Not?

In conclusion, even though there are still some questions to be asked and clarified, no one should ignore the efforts Coca-Cola is putting into sustainable packaging. So far they were able to reduce the equivalent of 30,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide. Furthermore, Coca-Cola’s vision is to eventually bring to market plastic bottles that are made with 100% renewable raw materials and that are fully recyclable, and therefore, they will continue their researches and investments in sustainable packaging.

In addition, Coca-Cola invested more than $60 million to build the world’s largest bottle-to-bottle recycling plant, supports recycling in the U.S. and many other countries, and works to recover PET plastic and other beverage container materials for recycling and reuse.

To sum it all up, investing into the environment can never be wrong. Every small step towards a more responsible handling of our natural resources will contribute to the greater goal of saving our planet and living in harmony with men and nature.

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5 Comments

  1. after having read a little more than half of your post the question you mentioned in your last paragraph came to my mind… this whole bio environmental degradable thing is really helpful – sometimes. obviously some just overdo it. How is a bottle supposed to consist of sugar cane 100%? Whatever, your post is well organised and you chose an interesting topic 🙂 keep it

    Reply
  2. I enjoyed reading your post. It is very well written and I especially like how you compare different arguments from different people.
    I think, it is good to try to develop bottles that do not pollute the environment that much and help saving resources.
    But I also have the feeling that Coca Cola is using this method not only to help the planet and its people to survive but it is more a marketing method. Another marketing tool that attracts people to buy Coca Cola instead of any other lemonade brand.
    It is hard to find out what Coca Cola’s real intention is.
    A very interesting topic. Your post really makes me think.

    Reply
  3. Kathrin

     /  December 2, 2011

    Hey Jessica! Excellent post, the topic is really interesting! I also liked the way you connected and compared the arguments of the different bloggers and how you structured you blog post. The headers make it easy to read through your post. I think it is great that more and more companies are trying to produce sustainable product. Although we do not know whether Coca Cola just did it to get a better image or attract another customer segment in my opinion it is really good to see that our world becomes greener! Well done!

    Reply
    • Saskia R.

       /  December 3, 2011

      Thanks guys for the comments. I agree with you that in general we can’t really know Coca-Cola’s intentions about the Plant Bottle. BUT, to be honest, it should not matter as long as the environment profits from it.

      Reply
  4. We had a presentation on the Coca Cola Company last week and we also have made a research on the strategies of this company and so on and there was a lot of information about the environment protection. And I was so surprised that Coca Cola is going in the direction of the climate protection so fast but I agree with you that we should be only happy about that. It doesn’t matter what Coca Cola is doing right and what not, as long as environment profits from that!
    Great post!

    Reply

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