Since the 2009 introduction of PlantBottle™ packaging—the first-ever fully recyclable PET plastic bottle made partially from plants—Coca-Cola has distributed more than 40 billion PlantBottle packages in over 40 countries. The use of this innovative, more sustainable packaging has saved the equivalent annual emissions of more than 365,000 metric tons of potential carbon dioxide emissions. For perspective, this is equivalent to the annual emissions produced by 41 million gallons of gas, more than 77,000 cars or by burning 845,000 barrels of oil.
PlantBottle packaging now accounts for 29 percent of the Company’s packaging volume in North America and 8 percent globally, making Coca-Cola the world’s largest consumer of bioplastics.
“The PlantBottle packaging breakthrough technology has helped catalyze a movement to redirect the entire polyester fiber and plastic resin industry toward a renewable future,” said Michael Knutzen, Global Program Director, PlantBottle. “We continue to advance our distribution of this transformational innovation and to contribute to the global dialogue and advancement of the responsible development of plant-based plastics.”
PlantBottle packaging has resonated with consumers, helped boost sales of brands like Dasani, generated headlines and won sustainable and innovation awards, and captured the collective attention of the supplier, scientific/academic and investor communities. In 2014, PlantBottle packaging was recognized by the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry for helping fuel the bio-based manufacturing boom.
Part of this buzz is because PlantBottle Technology™ is being used to produce more than plastic bottles. From day one, Coca-Cola decided to license it to non-competitive companies to expand its application and build a global supply chain for PlantBottle material—an opportunity embraced by members of the private sector.
In 2013, Ford Motor Company announced plans to use PlantBottle packaging in the fabric interior in certain test models of the Fusion Energi hybrid sedan. And in 2014, the first reusable, fully recyclable plastic cup made with PlantBottle Technology rolled out in SeaWorld® and Busch Gardens® theme parks and since then expanded to other theme parks and national zoos.
“Understanding the power of PlantBottle Technology and recognizing its potential, we realized its benefits had to be shared beyond our Company,” said Knutzen. “It’s an exciting opportunity to take an innovation that will positively impact the planet and grow its usage through collaboration.”
In July 2015, Coca-Cola reached a significant milestone when the Company announced the production of a fully recyclable, PET plastic bottle made entirely from plant materials. The bottles were showcased at the World Expo–Milan. There is still more work to be done to reach the ultimate goal to commercialize a 100 percent renewable, responsibly-sourced bottle that is fully recyclable. Coca-Cola continues to work with partners to achieve this vision.
Here are three lessons Coca-Cola has learned during its PlantBottle Technology journey:
1. PlantBottle Packaging Can Be Used as an Effective Marketing Tool.
While the environmental and long-term cost benefits of PlantBottle Technology have been clear since day one, after time the team realized its potential to build emotional connections with consumers. Today’s consumers expect quality beverages to be delivered in the most efficient way possible with a key focus on sustainability, minimizing resources and increasing the use of recycled and renewable materials.
PlantBottle packaging answers that expectation and has proven to be a top differentiator for many of the company’s brands, particularly its water portfolio, led by Dasani in the United States. PlantBottle packaging has been distributed in a variety of packaging sizes across water, sparkling, juice and tea beverage brands—from Coca-Cola to Dasani to Gold Peak.
“Consumers aren’t the only ones interested in this sustainability innovation,” said Knutzen. “Our customers who sell our beverages also seek products that provide a competitive advantage through differentiation. It’s an offering they want on their shelves.”
2. Achieving Cost Parity (or Better) is an End Goal, Not Immediately Attainable.
Today, PlantBottle packaging comes at a premium, which is not passed onto the consumer. Coca-Cola views this premium as a long-term investment as the plant-based material supply chain develops. The Company continues to explore new bio-based technologies that minimize price volatility, reduce costs, and increase Coca-Cola system adoption.
“We’re seeing a lot of variance in pricing because the price of petroleum is so volatile,” said Knutzen. “Over the long term, we believe the cost of plant-based material will be more stable than the cost of petroleum. That’s why we’re building our supply chain to efficiently use materials made from plants in our packaging. We’re absorbing the additional costs as an investment in a more sustainable future. The end goal is to enable technology and paths that allow us to reach cost parity or better.”
3. Collaboration with External Partners is Critical... and Continues to Grow.
Working together with environmental organizations, researchers, and other companies, Coca-Cola has been careful to identify current and future plant sources that truly deliver improved sustainability performance and do not compete with food crops.
With longtime conservation partner World Wildlife Fund, Coca-Cola has supported the creation of guiding principles for sourcing agricultural feedstocks, and is a founding member of the Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance, which aims to increase awareness around the environmental and social performance of potential feedstock sources for bio-based plastics.
Coca-Cola continues to engage technological partners Ford, Nike and P&G through the PET Plant Technology Collaborative (PTC) to establish and develop new promising paths for making renewable materials. This strategic working group is focused on accelerating the development and use of 100 percent plant-based PET plastic.
“As we work to advance PlantBottle, we recognize there will be many more lessons learned and we look forward to sharing those as well,” said Knutzen. “Sustainability is a journey and we’re prepared to adapt and adjust as dictated by consumers, innovation, and our overall world. We must always be seeking to improve and excel, for business and for our planet.”