A Q&A interview on Brandweek's Web site has some interesting comments from Coca-Cola Co. executives Scott Vitters and John Shero. Among other topics, Vitters covers what Coke thinks about degradable materials and what the company likes about PET. Brandweek asked Vitters, "Have you ever considered corn-based bottles and the like?" His reply:
We believe bio-based plastic materials offer tremendous long-term promise for enhancing the environmental performance of our packages. Instead of relying on fossil fuels, these innovative materials are produced using the natural sugar or dextrose from commonly grown plants. Coca-Cola has been working for over a decade to responsibly advance plant-based plastics (bio-polymers) technology. However, as with any new package, including bio-based, we have been very careful to understand the full life cycle of the package and its environmental before making it commercial. There have been three primary environmental factors that have kept us from commercializing a bio-based plastic bottle to date that we are actively working to overcome: * Package Performance: Current market technologies have had significant performance limitations given their low gas barrier (doesn't hold carbon dioxide long) and low heat stability (can warp in warm temperatures). We are working to overcome these and other performance challenges now. * Recycling Impact: Because the bio-based plastics look and feel so similar to regular PET [polyethylene terephthalate] plastics, they end up being collected together and contaminating the PET plastic recycling stream -which in turn can cause additional waste. Coca-Cola has been actively working to develop new state of the art recycling processing technologies to effectively separate these two different type of plastics, but today most recyclers do not have such technology in place. This issue is of particular concern to Coca-Cola since we are a key end user of recycled PET plastic back into bottles and will be opening the world's largest bottle to bottle PET plastic recycling plant next year. * Value of the Use-Package: Life cycle analysis research conducted by Coca-Cola discovered early on that composting a bio-based bottle would be environmentally inferior to a PET plastic bottle (by composting a bottle you lose all the stored energy value). Based on this research, Coca-Cola has been focused on evaluating recycling processes and end-use markets that can be created to cost-effectively sustain the reuse of bio-based polymer bottles. Since these markets do not currently exist, the majority of bio-based packages launched today will simply be treated as waste and thrown into landfills. We have also worked on other types of bio-based packaging such as cold and hot beverage cups, lids and straws. Since our first pilot of renewable cups at the 2002 Winter Olympics, we have continued to expand our use of bio-based - including making a branded bio-based cup option available for our customers. We have also been actively involved in programs to enhance the availability of community composting programs given that research has shown composting to be an environmentally effective mechanism for managing cup waste. We have an extensive amount of research in this issue area that we would be happy to share with those interested.Interesting comments, but nothing really surprising. If Coke can help boost the PET recycling rate, the company should be able to avoid any serious pressure to switch to PLA or some other material.