Tafline Laylin

Did You Know That Plant-Based Bottles by PepsiCo and Coke are Actually Not Biodegradable?

by , 06/19/11

plant based PET, HDPE, recyclable, 5 Gyres, phthalates, bisphenol A, recycled materials, Coke, PepsiCo, bottle bills, petroleum, ethanol

We badly wanted to believe that plant-based PET bottles would solve our plastic woes, but that is not the case, according to a recent Slate story. Although PepsiCo’s 100% plant-based PET bottles have a lower carbon footprint and use renewable sources, as do these Heinz bottles made by Coca Cola, they are not biodegradable. So, unfortunately, when it comes to ending up in landfills, plant-based plastics are every bit as harmful to the environment as their petroleum-based predecessors.



plant based PET, HDPE, recyclable, 5 Gyres, phthalates, bisphenol A, recycled materials, Coke, PepsiCo, bottle bills, petroleum, ethanol

Founder of the 5 Gyres project that monitors plastic pollution in the oceans, Marcus Eriksen told Slate that Pepsi and Coke are using plants “to make the same polymers you find in other plastics. It has zero effect on plastic pollution.” There’s also good reason to believe that bottles made from ethanol contain phthalates and bisphenol A – the compounds associated with obesity, autism, and various types of cancer.

Bio-resins may be recyclable, but new Pepsi and Coke bottles are neither biodegradable nor recycled. Consumers can be misled to think that renewable and plant-based bottles can be used ad infinitum, whereas recycled bottles encourage a more responsible reuse mentality.

Until now, both beverage giants have eschewed effective bottling bills that require manufacturers to give consumers incentive to recycle, preferring to spend their money on splashy R&D programs instead. Naked Juice, Naya Water, and Eldorado Water are among a handful of companies that do make bottles made from 100% recycled materials. Where there is a will…

Via Slate

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7 Comments

  1. msfrost June 20, 2011 at 3:33 pm

    Duh!

  2. lazyreader June 20, 2011 at 8:15 am

    If business knew how to recycle valuable plastic they’d be in business. Plastic is not valuable, on a per pound basis it’s worth a fraction of a cent. You get better quality less expensive versions of that stuff starting from scratch. No one has to trick you into recycling aluminum because people already go through your trash for aluminum cans. With the exception of metal, recycling is a wash. No one goes through your garbage for plastic bottles. The lagging of recycling technology and infrastructure is simply because it would cost to much. I have no doubt markets will find a use for plastic however in the mean time, the safest and cheapest way to ensure their disposal is landfills. As of now recycling plastics is of no real economic value to anyone, and overall it takes more energy to clean, sort, melt and recycle plastic bottles than to simply make a new one. A lot of recycling is paid for out of municipal funds and without them, the industry stagnates and dies; it’s a waste of taxpayer money to subsidize the recycling industry. And a plastic cup use nearly a thousand times less energy to make than a reusable ceramic mug. You’d have to use the mug a thousand times to break even with the energy use substituting plastic cups (nevermind what happens should the mug break before the thousandth cup) If you have a collection of mugs, it be less of an environmental crime to simply stick to plastic cups because they would use less space in a landfill than a mug. Now engineers have proposed methods of disposing of carbon rich materials such as plasma and incineration, what a waste. Future recycling technology such as thermal reduction or TDP turns this stuff back into oil for future use as a petrochemical feedstock. We could turn food scrap, garbage, sewage, trash, medical waste and biological materials, plastics, rubbers, resins, synthetic fabrics all back into oil for future use to be reintroduced back into those systems of future materials. Coke and Pepsi are better off stockpiling their bottles later.

  3. cordis June 20, 2011 at 1:52 am

    Interesting. So if you take plant base plastics, use them in products and them put them in landfills, isn’t that carbon sequestration? I mean, the plant pull carbon out of the air, we use the plants to make plastics, we bury the plastics, so the carbon comes out of the air and gets buried. I mean, assuming the plastics don’t break down in the landfill and release the carbon back into the atmosphere. So, isn’t that a good thing? It’s probably the cheapest form of carbon sequestration I’ve heard of, come to think of it. So, thanks big corporations???

  4. tstart June 17, 2011 at 3:48 pm

    I’ll start with a disclaimer that I’m not trying to defend or attack anybody here, but simply that I don’t like misleading or in-accurate information in articles.

    So with that, I have a few questions…

    Do you or do you not understand that these bottles ARE recyclable?
    Do you understand that the stated purpose of them is NOT to be Bio-degradable?
    Do you understand that the purpose is to make the EXACT same bottle, the exact same plastic polymer (PET), with all of the exact useful physical properties of that material…but do it without using oil as the raw source material?

    The reason to NOT use a bio-degradable resin such as PLA is that the physical properties of those are NOT able to perform the necessary function required of the package…such as good oxygen and moisture barriers to protect the food product inside. Until that magic material is invented, then I think the new strategy Coke, Pepsi, and many others are now beginning to take is the right one (for now). Which is to make the materials that are proven useful, but try to do it without the use of oil.

    Your first statement sounds as if you had some serious misconceptions and wishful thinking going on: “We badly wanted to believe that plant-based PET bottles would solve our plastic woes, but that is not the case…”

    But you have now discovered (seemingly to your dismay) that they are not and were never meant to be bio-degradable. And from here on you seem to be a little on the attack against these bottles.

    You go on to explain about the non-biodegradability of these and thus that they still harm the environment, also quoting Markus Eriksen to drive the point home. Glossing over the non-oil based point to the entire thing (leaving out anything better for the environment that these new bottles may bring due to the lack of oil).

    Then you throw in a comment about them “probably” containing phthalates and BPA, which is completely false. Plain and simple, PET does NOT contain either of those two chemicals. Wrong type of plastic, period. Sorry.

    Then you set out on a non-recycling attack. You start off first acknowledging that bio-resins ARE recyclable, but then immediately turn around and state…”but new Pepsi and Coke bottles are neither biodegradable nor recycled.”

    Where does the “nor recycled” bit come from? PET DOES get recycled…maybe not as much as glass or metal, but it certainly doesn’t deserve a complete dismissal.

    But wait, it gets better, because you then follow that by saying that these bottles somehow mislead consumers to think that they can re-use them BUT you then think it would be better if they were recyclable when you state…”whereas recycled bottles encourage a more responsible reuse mentality.”

    Wow, that was very contradictory and confusing.

    You then sum up with an attack against their marketing directions and lack of recycling incentives while forgetting about things like Cokes 100% recycling goal program, or Pepsi’s “DreamMachine” recycling kiosks.

    Come on, at least give these guys a little bit of credit for trying to make a little bit of real improvements. I know they are the two biggest companies out there that are easy targets, but I see them as using their money to do some real material science research with the aim of improving packaging. There are certainly far worse cases of “green-washing” out there to be mad about.

    The biggest problems are still peoples “waste” attitudes and the lagging of recycling technology and infrastructure. Recycling is a business trying to make money like any business, and so the sad simple reason more plastic isn’t recycled is because it’s not as worth it to do so as things that contain more material and are more valuable like metal and glass. Plastic is a very efficient packaging material (a lot of package with very little actual material), and so that makes it’s recycling not very valuable. To me, that doesn’t mean the solution is to stop using plastic (because like it or not it is a useful material), but instead it’s to find ways of making recycling cheaper and easier and more common so that it becomes more valuable as a business to recycle plastic.

  5. mabentle June 16, 2011 at 3:50 pm

    I would like to start off by giving Coke and Pepsi a pat on the back for making the effort in taking the first steps to become more environmentally friendly/minded.
    The issues of plastic pollution are grand and the companies efforts to become more eco-friendly are often marketed in ways that entice and fool consumers to buy into the idea that their packaging is indeed earth friendly. There are so many beverage brands looking for environmentally friendly packaging and many of them are moving into ENSO Biodegradable and Recyclable Plastic. To address the anxiety that speedy biodegradation rates result in methane emissions, whether it is moms meatloaf or ENSO Plastics, the same amount of methane will be released just in various time frames. The problem is not the biodegradable plastics but more so that the federal government has not adapted their methane collection systems to be installed sooner than 2 years.
    http://www.ensobottles.com
    http://www.ensoplastics.com

  6. drivethruecp June 16, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    So what, it’s a start. Bio-based materials gets rid of half the problem. That’s better than a full problem.
    If you want to be technical there should be no landfills, if trash is incinerated (with scrubbers on the discharge (like the coal power plants are supposed to have),
    And generate electricity from it. There are two pilot plants in NJ one in Newark, one in Trenton, both get rid of waste, generate electricity, the emissions to the environment is steam the ash is used in concrete production.

    This position is the same ignorance that speaks to the alternate energy sources as being efferent enough to be considered as solution (10-18%). I wish these people would also point out the efficiency of petro-energy equipment.
    The internal combustion engine is pitiful, it’s the same percentage (or less) as current solar panels, That did not stop Henry Ford, or his friend Rockefeller. That mindset would of stopped the main transportation source of our society, maybe it should have.

    All I can hope for is the next inhabitants of the planet are brighter than us. We were given the Garden of Eden and we have been pissing in the pool for a long time, that’s why the water is yellow and tastes funny.

    Paul D. Carse
    Industrial Designer

  7. gregpeters June 15, 2011 at 11:06 am

    I wonder: given the recent research showing that biodegradable plastics release methane (a much more potent GHG than carbon dioxide) on degredation, might the fact that some plant-based plastics can not biodegrade be a good thing? Recycling them might indeed be preferable in many ways to tossing them and letting them biodegrade. Consider the possibility that biodegradable plant-based plastics might involve removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and then releasing some of that carbon as methane – adding to global warming significantly.

    For my part, I think we should avoid these containers and their beverages entirely. Cola is just an artificially flavoered and sweetened acidic waste of money and calories. Bottled water is an abuse of our moost rpecious resources…

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