Who Knew Sugar Cane Juice and Molasses Could Do This...

Image: Coca-Cola

What’s made from one-third plant materials, already sold in Europe (and will be in North America by early 2010), and produced by a company whose drink products reach more than 1.5 billion people daily?

Coca-Cola’s 30% plant-based PET plastic bottles, that’s what.

The Coca-Cola Company, which recently announced plans to use bottles made partially from sugar cane juice and molasses, says it intends to produce two billion of these “special PET plastic bottles” by 2010’s end, and hopes to wean off of petroleum (a non-renewable resource) and use non-food, plant-based materials such as wood chips and wheat stalks to make fully recyclable containers from all renewable raw materials. (FYI, the 30% PET plant-based bottles are 100% recyclable, too.)

Stores in Denmark already sell Coke, Coke Light, and Coke Zero in partially plant-based eco-friendly bottles. Coke hopes rollout to parts of Canada will happen in late December 2009 or early January 2010, in time for the upcoming Vancouver Winter Olympics. Parts of the northwestern U.S. could see plant-based DASANI bottles (a Coke subsidiary) early next year.

In theory, these goals sound great, but jumping to 100% plant-based bottling seems like a huge increase. How will

Image: Coca-Cola Company

Coke do it? According to the company’s FAQs, PET plastic has two components, MEG (mono-ethylene glycol) and PTA (purified terephthalic acid), which respectively comprise 30% and 70% of bottles, by weight. The technology exists to make the MEG component out of plants; Coke’s working on the PTA. So apparently, it’s coming.

These bottles generate a few typical worries: Will people not recycle because they think the new bottles are compostible? Will increased sugar production, which uses a significant amount of water, up water demand? Coke promises that each bottle will still contain the “Please Recycle” logo, and that water demand isn’t expected to increase.

In case you’re wondering, this isn’t Coca-Cola’s first sustainability step (according to the company web site):
- In 2000, the company switched to “Ultra Glass” contour bottles, to reduce weight and cost. The result was a 26,000 ton CO2 reduction (equal to planting 8,000 acres of trees).
- Coca-Cola now uses 30% smaller caps on its PET bottles, eliminating 40 million tons of plastic annually in the U.S.

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