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PlantBottle: Frequently Asked Questions

By:  The Coca-Cola Company Jan 1, 2012
Plantbottle Frequently Asked Questions

We packed a lot of big thinking into one little bottle. Learn how we did it, why we did it and what it means for you.

Q: What is PlantBottle packaging?

A: PlantBottle™ is our latest breakthrough innovation in packaging. It’s the first-ever fully recyclable PET plastic beverage bottle made partially from plants.

Q: What's the difference between PlantBottle® packaging and a traditional PET plastic bottle?

A: The difference is in the materials used to make the bottle. Traditional PET plastic is made using fossil fuels, like petroleum. PlantBottle™ is made with a combination of traditional materials and up to 30% made from plants.

Because the end product is still PET plastic, the PlantBottle™ package delivers the same performance (e.g. shelf life, recyclability, weight, chemical composition, appearance), but it reduces potential carbon dioxide emissions from our PET plastic bottles and dependence on fossil fuels, like petroleum, when compared to traditional PET plastic.

Q: Why do you say “up to 30%” is made from plants?

A: PET plastic is made up of two components - you can think of them as ingredients: MEG (mono-ethylene glycol), which makes up 30% of the PET by weight, and PTA (purified terephthalic acid), which makes up the other 70%.

We’ve found a way to make MEG from plants, which is why we say our bottles are up to 30% made from plants.

We use the term "up to" because we want to be clear with our consumers around the world that the exact amount of material made from plants may vary some as the bottle production starts up or winds down. Some mixing of bio-based resin and non-bio-based resin can occur as the production lines making the bottles transition between resins, slightly diluting the percentage of material made from plants.

Q: What about the other 70%?

A: Currently the other 70% of the PET (the PTA) is made from traditional sources. Our packaging innovation teams are working on technology to develop PTA from plants, but it’s complicated science and we expect it will be a few more years before we have a commercial breakthrough.

Meanwhile, in some markets, we’re combining materials from plants with recycled PET to enhance the package’s environmental performance. For example, in Denmark, PlantBottle™ packaging is made with a combination of up to 15% materials made from plants and 50% recycled materials.

Our ultimate goal is a carbon neutral, 100% renewable, responsibly sourced bottle that is fully recyclable – a bottle we can all feel good about.

Q: What are the advantages of PlantBottle™ packaging?

A: PlantBottle™ looks, feels and functions just like traditional PET, but it does so with a lighter footprint on the planet and its scarce resources.

PlantBottle™ is fully recyclable in the existing community recycling programs and can be used back into new bottles or the wide variety of other products made from recycled PET today.

It has the same performance as other PET bottles, meaning there’s no difference in shelf life, weight, chemical composition or appearance.

Our use of PlantBottle™ packaging in 2010 alone eliminated almost 30,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide – the equivalent impact of approximately 60,000 barrels of oil from our PET plastic bottles.

Another advantage is its ability to strengthen our brands’ connections to customers and consumers. People are responding very positively to the package in each market where it is introduced.

Q: Where does the plant material come from?

A: Currently, PlantBottle™ is made using sugarcane ethanol from Brazil.

Sugarcane ethanol from Brazil is the only first generation biofuel widely recognized by thought leaders globally for its unique environmental and social performance. Most sugarcane in Brazil is grown on degraded pastures located over 2,000 km from the Amazon, so it has a lower impact on biodiversity. The farms from which we source use effective cultivation processes, so the sugarcane is predominantly rain-fed and mechanically harvested.

Q: Will PlantBottle™ materials crowd out food-based agriculture?

A: No. While sugarcane production has increased in Brazil, there has been no drop in food production. Brazil is a leading exporter of beef, coffee, orange juice, poultry, soybeans and sugar.

Most sugarcane expansion is on degraded pastures that do not increase competition for new land or displace other crops.

Estimates show that sugarcane production in Brazil could increase thirty times without endangering sensitive ecosystems or taking land destined for food crops.

Q: Are you using genetically modified crops for PlantBottle™?

A: There are no genetically modified crops in the plant materials we are sourcing today.

Q: Are PlantBottle™ materials more expensive than traditional PET? Will the end products be more expensive?

A: We’re seeing a lot of variance in pricing because the price of petroleum is so volatile. Over the long term, we believe the cost of material made from plants will be more stable than the cost of petroleum. That’s why we’re building out our supply chain to efficiently use materials made from plants in our packaging.

We’re absorbing the additional costs today as an investment in a more sustainable future.

Q: When and where is PlantBottle™ available in the market?

A: In its first year, PlantBottle™ was launched in nine global markets, including Brazil, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Japan, Mexico, Norway, Sweden and the United States on brands like Bonaqua Water, Barqs, Coca-Cola, DASANI, Fresca, iLOHAS, Sokenbicha, Sprite, and vitaminwater. We used over 2.5 billion PlantBottle™ packages to deliver a variety of our products in 2010 and we plan to more than double that number in 2011.

Q: If it’s identical to traditional PET plastic bottles, how will consumers know if their bottle contains plant materials?

A: PlantBottle™ beverage containers can be identified through on-package messages and logos, and in-store point-of-sale displays. Web-based communications including the PlantBottle™ section of our website, www.thecoca-colacompany.com/plantbottle provide additional information on PlantBottle™ packaging.

Q: What is our position on the environmental issues associated with plastic?

A: PET plastic is excellent for beverage packaging because it’s versatile, durable, economical, re-sealable and highly recyclable. That’s why we’ve been using it for over 30 years.

However, we do recognize that most plastic beverage bottles are still made from fossil fuels, such as petroleum, and many are not disposed of properly, which leads to waste.

At Coca-Cola, our packaging vision is zero waste. We’re actively working to prevent waste over the life of our packaging by advancing consumer recycling programs and increasing our use of recycled and renewable material in our packages.

Q: What are the differences between PlantBottle™ plastic bottles and biodegradable or compostable plastic bottles?

A: We’ve studied this issue carefully and our environmental research tells us that recyclable plastic bottles are better environmentally and economically when compared to biodegradable plastic bottles.

The plastic in PlantBottle™ packaging can be recycled again and again in today’s recycling streams, thereby reclaiming all of the energy and materials that went into the creation of the bottle.

PlantBottle™ packaging also provides performance advantages in maintaining the quality of sparkling and still beverages. We haven’t seen a biodegradable package that can meet the quality requirements for all of our beverages.

Q: What is the difference between PET plastic and HDPE plastic? Why can you make a 100% renewable HDPE plastic bottle, but not a 100% renewable PET plastic bottle?

A: We now have two packaging types using material made from plants. Our plant-based PET package uses materials that are up to 30 % made from plants and can be used with a wide-range of our beverages, including our sparkling beverages and many of our stills. It’s up to 30 % because we developed an innovative solution to one element of PET plastic, namely monoethylene glycol (MEG). MEG is approximately 30 % by weight of the material in PET. We’re working to identify a solution made from plants for purified terephthalic acid (PTA), the other 70 % of PET by weight.

Our Odwalla package in the US is HDPE (high density polyethylene) plastic. There is only one material used to make PE – ethylene. Ethylene can be made today from sugarcane based ethanol, so it can be made 100 % from plants.

HDPE is a great plastic for juices, but it is not acceptable for carbonated beverages because it has a higher gas permeability. It also is not ideal for bottled waters because it is not “glass clear” – it is translucent.

Q: What does the future for PlantBottle™ look like?

A: We’re excited about PlantBottle™ packaging and our intent is to use the packaging for all of our PET plastic bottles by 2020.

We’re working with several R+D partners, including researchers at universities and research institutes globally, to advance technologies to extract sugar from plant wastes for future generations of PlantBottle™ packaging. So, while we’re using sugarcane today, we also expect to also be able to use natural resources like stems, fruit peels and bark in the near future.

We’re also working with partners to crack the code on plant-based purified terephthalic acid (PTA), which accounts for the other 70 % of PET by weight. This involves breakthrough science but we’ve got some of the smartest minds in the field focused on it today.

Our ultimate goal is a carbon neutral, 100% renewable, responsibly sourced bottle that is fully recyclable – a bottle we can all feel good about.

Q: What other commitments has Coca-Cola made to sustainable packaging, beyond PlantBottle™?

A: At Coca-Cola, sustainable packaging innovation is in our DNA. We’ve consistently been on the leading edge of bringing consumer-driven, environmentally responsible developments to the marketplace.

We commissioned the first-ever environmental lifecycle assessment of packaging in 1969 and we launched the first plastic beverage bottle made with recycled material in 1991. We also launched the world’s largest bottle-to-bottle PET recycling plant in 2009.

We take our role as a leader in sustainable packaging innovation seriously.

We’ve made real progress toward our goal to be the most efficient user of packaging materials in the beverage industry. We’ve reduced the weight of the packaging in our 8-fluid-ounce glass bottle by more than 50%; our 12-fluid-ounce aluminum can by more than 30%; and our 20-fluid-ounce PET bottle by 25%. Additionally, a smaller cap designed for PET bottles is expected to eliminate 40 million pounds of plastic annually in the U.S. alone.

We invest millions of dollars each year to support the collection and recovery of beverage packaging materials. Our goal is to recover the equivalent of 50% of the bottles and cans we put on shelves worldwide by 2015. Currently, we recover and recycle the equivalent of 36% of our bottles and cans.

In 2009, we made an investment of more than $60 million to build the world’s largest plastic bottle-to-bottle recycling plant in Spartanburg, S.C. We’ve also made significant investments in bottle-to-bottle recycling facilities in Australia, Austria, Mexico and the Philippines and will continue to expand efforts globally.

Our vision is to continue to advance technologies that will enable us to increase the amount of recycled and renewable material in our packaging. Our ultimate goal is a carbon neutral, 100% renewable, responsibly sourced bottle that is fully recyclable – a bottle we can all feel good about.

Q: Who developed the technology to make plastic from plants? Does Coca-Cola own the patent?

A: Coca-Cola did not develop the process to make plant-based PET. However, we did develop and have applied for a patent for the beverage bottle application on plant-based PET. That’s what PlantBottle™ is.