Major brand owners are teaming up to accelerate the development of PET made from entirely plant-based sources.
Coca-Cola Co., Ford Motor Co., H.J. Heinz Co., Nike Inc. and Procter & Gamble Co. have formed the Plant PET Technology Collaborative, aimed at supporting the development and use of plant-based PET material and fibers.
PTC members are pooling their resources, knowledge and experience in an effort to find a sustainable alternative to using fossil fuels, said Katherine Schermerhorn, a spokeswoman with Coke.
The group's goal is to develop a commercially viable form of purified terephthalic acid made from plant-based sources. PTA makes up 70 percent of PET formulation by weight. Several companies, including Coke, already use PET made with bio-based monoethylene glycol, the other 30 percent.
PTC officials said they will also work with academics and industry experts to develop common, industrywide terminology, practices and standards for using plant-based resins.
“[We're] coming together to make sure that standards are in place, so when Coke talks about using plant-based packaging, it's the same as when Ford or Heinz or Nike talks about it,” Schermerhorn said.
The group will commission life-cycle analyses, to ensure that plant-based PET is a truly sustainable alternative, and will develop supply chains that ensure feedstock isn't competing with food supply, she said.
“Just because it's made of plants does not mean it's better in terms of footprint and supply chain,” she added. “[We need to] make sure we continue to have that trust with customers and consumers.”
Formation of PTC has been under discussion for awhile. From Coke's perspective, it was important to work with other brands that had a shared commitment to environmentally responsible practices and a shared vision to drive innovation, Schermerhorn said.
For right now, the group is keeping the details of its future projects under wraps, she said.
While each of the brands uses PET differently, they will all benefit from the development of a plant-based version. In addition to the environmental gains, plant-based resins have economic advantages — the material doesn't have the same price volatility as resins made from fossil fuels, and customers respond well to plant-based plastics.
“You've got to be able to make that business case. Otherwise, at the end of the day, it's not really a sustainable movement,” Schermerhorn said.
Coke has been working on the development of plant-based PET for several years.
The Atlanta-based company has been using its PlantBottle technology, a PET resin made with bio-based monoethylene glycol, since 2009.
In December, the company announced it was making a multimillion-dollar investment in three research companies to fuel the development of a commercially viable, entirely plant-based PET bottle by 2020.
That investment is separate from Coke's work with the PTC, Schermerhorn said.
Heinz, headquartered in Pittsburgh, leases Coke's PlantBottle technology for use in ketchup bottles.