Three words explain why the 100 percent bioplastic bottle isn't ubiquitous yet: Supply, supply, supply.
Coca-Cola, Pepsi and several other Fortune 500 companies are working to address that. The beverage makers earlier this month announced they're teaming up with Nike, Ford, Procter & Gamble and Heinz to accelerate the development of 100-percent plant-based PET via a new initiative called the PET Plant Technology Collaborative.
“There’s limited supply and we’re all competing for it,” said Michael Washburn, director of sustainability for Nestle Waters North America. “Not just in the beverage industry, but also the carpet industry, technology companies like HP, food companies, and so on, and because of that we have to pay a premium for rPET. That dynamic needs to change for us to increase our use of it.”
It’s not just plant-based PET that’s in short supply, but recycled PET as well, said Washburn, who noted the limited supply of recycled PET (rPET) is keeping recycled content low in U.S. beverage bottles.
And with the beverage companies' ambitious goals -- Coke and Pepsi are each aiming to convert as many of their bottles to plant-based plastics in the next five years as possible -- collaboration, rather than cutthroat competition, made sense.
“We’re all end-users of PET and we’ve all been looking at bioplastics, so we’ve been working together informally for about a year, and thought it would be a good idea to work together in a more formal way,” said Angela Harris, biomaterials research engineer in the plastics research group at Ford Motor Company's Research and Innovation Center. “We’re all in different industries so we’re not competing with each other, and we have the same goals—we want to use this material, so we want to develop more of a supply base.”
Instead of bioplastic companies coming to each company individually, Harris explained, they can come to all five together. “Then we can talk about the different technologies amongst ourselves and figure out what would work best.”
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