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Coca-Cola says biodegradable packaging 'not a viable option'

3 commentsBy Guy Montague-Jones , 15-Feb-2011

Coca-Cola is backing the recyclable Plant Bottle - currently 30 per cent bio-based
Coca-Cola is backing the recyclable Plant Bottle - currently 30 per cent bio-based

Coca-Cola said earlier this month that biodegradable packaging is “simply not a viable option” but a new report suggests that other smaller drinks companies are beginning to take an interest.

In its 2009/2010 sustainability report, Coca-Cola gave a hostile assessment of biodegradable drinks packaging. It said: “A one-use bottle is simply not a viable option for our business.”

The soft drinks giant explained: “While biodegradable packaging can be a sound choice for products that are not commercially recyclable, the process of capturing the embodied energy and raw materials in beverage bottles for reuse through recycling is, in our view, a much better option.”

But according to a new report on drinks biopackaging from Zenith International not all manufacturers agree with Coca-Cola.

High growth rates

The food and drinks consultancy said the use of biopackaging, defined in the report as compostable packaging, rose by 47 per cent in Western Europe and North America last year. This takes total volume to over 100 million litres – a small proportion of total volume but a large percentage increase nonetheless.

“Despite the difficulties, we foresee continuing strong growth in development projects. If the challenges can be answered, then volume can gain serious market share”, said Jenny Foulds, a senior analyst at Zenith.

Foulds said the environmental credentials of compostable bottles, typically made from corn-based PLA (polylactic acid), sit well with green-minded consumers.

Persistent challenges

This provides a powerful basis for future growth but challenges such as price, separation from PET and composting facilities persist.

These factors have so far prevented compostable solutions from becoming the green solution of choice for drinks manufacturers. “The use of recycled PET continues to gain momentum and has overtaken compostable bottle formats,” said Foulds.

The analyst said some smaller companies have seen compostable packaging as a way of differentiating themselves. But for bigger companies sourcing high volumes of plant-based material for compostable packaging is problematic and expensive, especially given the controversy surrounding the use of potential food sources for non-food purposes.

For that to change and for the likes of Coca-Cola to back biodegradable packaging, Foulds said government backing including the provision of adequate composting facilities, tax incentives and other financial support may be needed.

Hasso v. Pogrell, managing director of European Bioplastics, said he is unaware of any drinks package on the market that is truly biodegradable – that is to say that meets the European standard for compostability EN 13432.

The trade body head said the broader bio-packaging concept has a promising future in the sector. Pogrell praised the Plant Bottle from Coca-Cola saying it may be considered a bioplastic product because renewable resources are used in its manufacture and it is suitable for recycling alongside ordinary PET.

But he warned that some partial solutions like oxo-degradable additives that make packaging fragment and fall apart may do as much harm as good, causing problems at recycling and composting facilities.

3 comments (Comments are now closed)

Biodegradable Bottles that are ALSO Recyclable

Coca Cola still incorrectly assumes, as do many consumers, that "Biodegradable" equates to "Non-recyclable". This changed years ago. There are bottles that are BOTH recyclable and biodegradable ALREADY on U.S. store shelves today.
I appreciate Coke's efforts with the recyclable plant bottle. But recycled bottles are turned into lower-grade products like carpet; destined to be thrown away in a landfill next to the 94% of bottles that never got recycled in the first place!
Does it really matter what the bottle was sourced from when it still is going to last for centuries in nature or in a landfill? It can’t cost too much. Smaller, obviously more earth-conscious companies are already selling recyclable bottles that ALSO biodegrade in a landfill in less than 15 years.
That said, we all need to feel comfortable asking industry leaders like Coke to do a little more with our money. Displaying some agility in KEEPING UP with affordable biodegradable bottle technologies would be a great place to start. I would even be willing to spend a little more on a Coke... and a smile knowing know I am not hurting the environment.
Max Clark

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Posted by Max Clark
21 February 2011 | 19h48

European Bioplastics comments not right about oxo-degradable plastics

What a pity that your story on the findings of Zenith International's interesting report should be marred by the inaccurate remarks on 'oxo-degradable (ie, oxo-biodegradable) plastic by the managing director of European Bioplastics - a lobby group for the hydro-biodegradable plastics industry.

He is quite wrong to say that "oxo-degradable additives that make packaging fragment and fall apart, may do as much harm as good, causing problems at recycling and composting facilities."

Firstly, oxo-biodegradable plastics are meant to fragment and fall apart while they degrade. All plastics do, including hydro-biodegradable plastics and this is an essential part of their degradation process.

However, in the case of oxo-bio, these particles have been converted into a material with a completely different molecular structure. At that stage, they are no longer a plastic and have become a material which can be bio-assimilated in the open environment in the same way as a leaf.

Secondly, it is untrue to say that oxo-bio plastics can cause problems during the recycling stage, as they can be fully recycled with with other plastics without any contamination of the waste stream.

Ironically, one degradable plastic which does cause problems for recycling is the form of plastic promoted by European Bioplastics itself. Their plastic causes contamination, so they have to be extracted from the waste stream and recycled separately from all other plastics.

Finally, oxo-bio causes no problems during composting either - provided it is composted in an in-vessel composting plant which meets the latest EU standards. This is an added bonus for a plastic which was not designed for composting at all, but primarily to address the problem of plastic waste which escapes into the open environment.

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Posted by Max de Trense
16 February 2011 | 18h49

Biodegradable Plastic

Mr. Pogrell is wrong. Oxo-biodegradable plastics are a much better option than expensive "compostable" plastics. There is ample published scientific evidence to show that oxo-bio plastics do not just fragment - they convert to biodegradable materials which can be safely bioassimilated in the open environment.

"Compostable" plastics are not even useful for compost. This is because they convert to CO2 gas within 180 days - contributing to climate change but doing nothing for the soil.

It is misleading to call compostable plastics "biodegradable" because they will readily biodegrade only in the special conditions found in industrial composting.

In June 2009 Germany’s Institute for Energy and Environmental Research concluded that compostable plastics have a worse Life-cycle Analysis than oil-based plastics.

The packaging manager of Tesco (Britain’s largest supermarket) said on 20th October 2009 that the supermarket “does not see the value in packaging that can only be industrially composted” and that “city authorities do not want it, as it can contaminate existing recycling schemes.”

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Posted by Symphony UK
15 February 2011 | 15h56

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