Pepsi tests bottle made from plants

Ideally, the new plastic would be made of leftover agricultural waste. For now, it can't be recycled.

By Kim Peterson Mar 15, 2011 3:56PM
 © 2010 PepsiCo Inc.Pepsi (PEP) will start testing a bottle made entirely out of plants. Sounds crazy, but the plastic is gaining traction and other bottlers could follow.

The bottle is made from switch grass, pine bark, corn husks and other materials, The Associated Press reports. And Pepsi is working on ways to include leftovers from its food business, including orange peels, potato scraps and oat hulls.

No, the bottle won't taste like pine trees or Fritos. Pepsi says it looks and feels exactly the same as existing bottles. It does the same job of protecting the drink inside.

Pepsi appears a lot further along on this innovation than Coca-Cola (KO). Coke makes a bottle with 30% plant-based plastic and doesn't plan on going 100% anytime soon. "For the next five to 10 years we don't see biodegradable plastics as an option for our bottles," said a Coca-Cola executive in 2009, according to PlasticsToday.com.

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This summer, Heinz will begin bottling its ketchup in 30% bioplastic bottles, and it has partnered with Coca-Cola to use its formula. Coca-Cola recently said its packaging, with only 30% bioplastic, eliminates the equivalent of about 30,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, or approximately 60,000 barrels of oil, Reuters reports.

Pepsi will begin testing its all-plant plastic bottle next year, starting with a few hundred thousand units. If the test goes well, the company could begin using the material in all of its products.

"This is the beginning of the end of petroleum-based plastics," a scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council told the AP. "When you have a company of this size making a commitment to a plant-based plastic, the market is going to respond."

Traditional plastic is made with petroleum and other fossil fuels. The goal is to eliminate petroleum in plastic by using plants. Ideally, bottlers wouldn't have to grow plants specifically for that purpose. Instead, they would use the billions of tons of agricultural waste produced each year, the AP reports.

But here's a downer: These plant-based plastics can't be recycled, at least according to current recycling technologies. At least Coke's bottles are recyclable.

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