Last week, the fifth round of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue was held in Washington, D.C. This annual high-level meeting provides a forum for leaders from the two countries to discuss a wide range of political, strategic, security and economic issues. 

Many of the agreements reached this year were related to the environment, including one involving Coca-Cola’s innovative PlantBottle™ program. China and the U.S. agreed to expand their prestigious EcoPartnership program by signing six new cooperative partnerships focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving energy efficiency and creating jobs. One of the partnerships selected was Coca-Cola’s collaboration with the Yangtze River Delta Research Institute of Circular Economy to advance technologies that use local agricultural wastes to make ingredients for polyester plastic, including the company’s breakthrough PlantBottle packaging.  

PlantBottle Program Gets Boost From U.S. and China Governments

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, Chinese State Councilor Yang, U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke, Chinese Ambassador to the U.S. Cui Tiankai, Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern and other U.S. and Chinese officials with representatives of the six new U.S.-China EcoPartnerships.

U.S. Department of State

The aim of Coca-Cola’s EcoPartnership in China is to turn the potential of agricultural waste into a reality for polyester production. China today is the largest global supplier of polyester for fibers and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) resin primarily used in beverage containers. Global demand for polyester is predicted to continue growing at an average of 7% per year, up from 5% over the past decade. China’s domestic growth and constraints on local cotton production – arising from a lack of arable land availability and competition from food crops – are helping drive this increase in polyester demand.

In the face of a bullish outlook on polyester growth, the material remains dependent on increasingly volatile fossil-based resources such as oil and natural gas. To reduce this risk, and help lower the material’s carbon footprint, Coca-Cola has been advancing our PlantBottle packaging platform. This breakthrough technology uses natural sugars found in plants to make ingredients identical to the fossil-based ones traditionally used in polyester fibers and resin. 

Coca-Cola’s target is to have 100% of the PET plastic we use in bottles contain first-generation PlantBottle material by 2020. With our large market share, our commitment is instrumental in catalyzing transformational change across the PET plastic industry in China and other markets around the world.

To realize the full sustainability benefits of PlantBottle, it is essential for the source of plant-based material used to deliver better performance. Currently, we are assessing the performance of several local plant sources in both China and the U.S. that may meet our company’s strict environmental and social performance requirements. Several promising technologies that use biomass, or agricultural wastes, are showing particular promise if they can be brought to commercial scale. Potential additional advantages to using agricultural wastes may include increasing farmer value and mitigating air pollution caused by traditional waste burning practices.

We invite stakeholders to follow the ongoing progress of the PlantBottle program on Coca-Cola Journey.

Scott Vitters

Scott Vitters is general manager of the PlantBottle™ packaging platform at The Coca-Cola Company.