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Alliance eyes bioplastics sustainability

By: Jim Johnson

December 5, 2013

A well-known conservation group, along with some of the most famous companies in the world, wants to have a say in how the bioplastics industry develops in the years ahead.

With the creation of the new Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance, the World Wildlife Federation and eight companies are looking to have input and drive sustainable development of the industry.

The new alliance aims to address the sustainable development of bioplastics made from feedstocks such as sugar cane, corn, bulrush and switchgrass.

Issues such as food security, land use and resource competition all will be addressed by the group that includes Ford, Nike, Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, Danone, Heinz, Unilever and Nestle.

“We’ve got a bit of work in front of us until we can establish what our role in the industry is going to be. But I’m really excited to see all these companies come together and change the way they work tackling some of these more difficult issues,” said Erin Simon, manager in business and industry for packaging and material science at WWF.

“You have some of these hot-button issues that exist right now,” she said.

Protecting resources while promoting sustainable development of the bioplastics industry is important to the WWF, Simon said.

“We’re at the beginning of the growth of this industry and there’s potential to scale that positive change in a way that would truly impact the areas that we care about the most,” Simon said.

“For WWF, that clearly was valuable to our mission because we seek to protect those ecosystems that are valuable and are very unique in biodiversity. And a lot of those ecosystems are where major commodities are sources from, including agricultural and forestry products,” Simon said.

Coca-Cola sees the alliance as a way to work with other companies in a “pre-competitive space to be able to advance innovative sustainability,” said Scott Vitters, general manager of the company’s PlantBottle program.

That program, since 2009, has produced 18 billion PET bottles partially made from plants.

“In many cases this is a new and emerging area. So how we bring the best minds together to be evaluating and looking at how we advance this space is a key part,” he said about formation of the alliance.

“It’s in all of our interests in terms of making sure that we’ve got clarity around the environmental and social performance of plant material,” Vitters said. “It makes all of us better to be working together and to be assessing in terms of that performance, collaboratively.”

A short-term goal, Simon said, “is to put some sound science beyond some of these issues, establish some decision-making processes and key research for these brands who are asking these questions now so they have that information as they invest in new solutions for the future.”

A long-term goal from WWF’s perspective, Simon said, “is to enable and inspire” change. “We’re at the beginning of the growth of this industry and there is potential to scale that positive change in a way that would truly impact the areas that we truly care about the most. So have these companies be leaders in their industry, setting a bar for how to produce bioplastics.”

Vitters said the public has an expectation for companies to work together to advance breakthrough technologies that make a difference for the planet. “This is a really good space for all of us to be working together to ensure that we’re advancing it in a way that delivers the promise that bioplastics can offer,” he said.

Kirk Glaze, director of community relations for Coca-Cola North America Group, had this to say in an email interview:

“A key focus for us is sustaining public trust by working to achieve continued transparency on the environmental and social performance of bioplastic materials.

“This is a rapidly evolving innovation space that offers a tremendous amount of promise but at times can be complex to understand. This is why we are so focused on collaborative partnerships to share learnings and other efforts to educate stakeholders on advances being made in bioplastic,” he said.