Five examples of bioplastics taking root at major companies
Coca-Cola is one of the companies trying to harness plant-based PET, currently using sugarcane from Brazil to create bio- monoethylene glycol for its fully-recyclable (but not compostable) PlantBottle packaging. Primarily used for bottles for Coca-Cola’s water, soft drinks and juices, the PlantBottle technology is also being used in partnership with Ford for car interiors, as well as clothing and carpet.
The choice of sugarcane is somewhat controversial, as campaigners insist it will push Brazilian agriculture into the rainforest while depriving people of food, but Coca-Cola has worked with WWF towards a sugar certification scheme in Brazil and anticipates using other plants as well, if the material takes off as expected.
Although the bottles are currently ‘up to 30 per cent’ plant-based (and in 2013, the company was convicted of ‘greenwashing’ by the Danish consumer ombudsman), work is being done on the rest (at the moment made up of fossil- fuel-based purified terephthalic acid, since you asked). Last year, a pilot 100 per cent PlantBottle was showcased, though it’s not ready for commercial use yet. Over 43 billion PlantBottles have been put on the market worldwide, and by 2020 the company aims for all new PET bottles to be made from the material.
For some a telling sign of the consumer and workaholic culture of the 21st century, coffee pods are here to stay. Though there are cases to be made for their portion control effects, it’s hard to deny that the coffee from the single-serving pods could just as well be loaded into one bag like the good old days.
Last year, however, Lavazza launched a fully compostable and biodegradable coffee capsule using Novamont’s Mater-Bi third-generation bioplastic. So now, instead of the bin, your collection of spent capsules can be chucked in with the food waste. The innovation has kicked off a trend, with Percol and Dualit recently launching compostable pods of their own.
Taking on unrecyclable laminated flexible packaging for food products, Israeli start-up TIPA Corp aimed to emulate the multi-layer protection of an orange peel in developing a compostable bioplastic that it says is just as durable and impermeable as conventional materials but decomposes in home composting within 180 days – like an orange peel.
The company produces a range of films and laminates that can be used for pouches, bags or wrappers. In October, it announced that its material would be used as packaging for Snact, a range of fruit jerky made from surplus produce: a truly waste-aware item for your lunchbox.
The Soy Car may not have made it, but Ford didn’t completely lose interest in biobased materials, and in 2007 introduced the automotive industry’s first soy-based seat cushions and backs (although soy, again, brings up concerns over deforestation).
This summer, though, Ford teamed up with tequila giant Jose Cuervo to develop new bioplastics using offcuts from the agave plant, the distilled juice of which turns into the spirit.
The partnership is looking into using leftover agave fibres in heating and air conditioning units, wiring harnesses and storage bins. Ford says that the move could reduce the weight of its cars, improving fuel economy, as well as decreasing reliance on petrochemicals.
It’s not just food waste that can be collected by compostable bags. UK company Loowatt uses bioplastics as part of its chemical-free human waste solution for places without plumbing. Using a patented and simple sealing technology to capture toilet waste in a biodegradable film, developed to also inhibit odours, the toilet stores the waste in a cartridge for periodic emptying.
The bags and their contents can then be treated through anaerobic digestion to produce biogas and fertiliser.
As well as festivals in the UK, the toilet units have been rolled out in Madagascar to provide urban sanitation, as well as energy and electricity, and the company has received backing from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to scale up its systems.