PepsiCo Trying To Score Some Cheap Green Points

In a boisterous press release of March 15, PepsiCo announced by “building upon its heritage as an innovator and leader in environmental sustainability, it has developed the world’s first PET plastic bottle made entirely from plant-based, fully renewable resources, enabling the company to manufacture a beverage container with a significantly reduced carbon footprint”.

And it continues to state, that “PepsiCo’s “green” bottle is 100% recyclable and far surpasses existing industry technologies”.
It is said that the bottle is to be made from bio-based raw materials, including switch grass, pine bark and corn husks. In the future, the company expects to broaden the renewable sources used to create the “green” bottle to include orange peels, potato peels, oat hulls and other agricultural by-products from its foods business.

By combining biological and chemical processes, PepsiCo states, it has identified methods to create a molecular structure that is identical to petroleum-based PET (polyethylene terephthalate), which results in a bottle that looks, feels and protects its product identically to existing PET beverage containers.
PepsiCo will pilot production of the new bottle in 2012. Upon successful completion of the pilot, the company intends to move directly to full-scale commercialization.

So far the press release. I have been waiting 3 weeks to see whether more information is coming forth from PepsiCo. However nothing more. But what is PepsiCo actually saying? Absolutely nothing. PepsiCo claims and tries to get us to believe that its newly developed plant bottle will tick all the “green” boxes for a disposable drinks bottle. But the proclamation should not be taken too seriously until the bottle arrives on shelves.
Let’s look at it. What does PepsiCo show us. Any model, any lab sample? No, absolutely nothing. It looks as a publicity stunt trying to score some cheap ‘green points’, after Heinz announced the implementation of Coca Cola’s PlantBottle. At this very moment Pepsi has nothing substantial in its hands. And looking at the information (or better the lack of), it will take PepsiCo quite some time (years) before they have reached the market, if they ever reach it.

At first glance the bottle appears to be a major breakthrough, but PepsiCo illustrates this only with a (fancy) photo claiming that it shows the newly developed bottle planted between oranges, potatoes and oats – the scraps of which are its ingredients.

The picture does not mean that the bottle is ready to be used to bottle PepsiCo drinks all around the world. In fact the innovation hasn’t even yet undergone a pilot production. That, PepsiCo states, will begin in 2012 and full scale production is to follow, as the pilot is successful.
More than one handful of uncertainties, unforeseen risks and blah, blahs.

Additional to this, it isn’t revolutionary anymore to claim a 100% plant bottle based on bio-mass. It is well known that there are several research projects in progress and some almost successfully finished which derive plastics from bio-mass and blow-mould beverage bottles. Among others is Embrapa in Brazil using the waste of banana trees, palmitos, etc. Even Coca Cola claims to have created a 100% plant bottle on laboratory level. But commercial production is still faraway.

PepsiCo's Brazil Product Portfolio

Guy Montague-Jones, reporter at BeverageDaily.com, did put some interesting questions in front of his readers, after having concluded that the PepsiCo bottle has not even reached the launch stage. He wonders: Did PepsiCo solve the problems around the production of a consistent product made from agricultural by-products that vary throughout the year? Does it really match PET on performance? What is the process that turns the plant material into the plastic bottle? And can the bottle be made cheaply and on a large enough scale? What is the behaviour of the material in the recycling stream?

Only when PepsiCo starts answering these questions and shows the real bottle and not some cheap fancy photoshopped picture, we can start valuing the innovation. Until then PepsiCo’s “fairy tale” of its green bottle is just ‘green washing’. A marketing trick not supposed to be taken seriously by the packaging professional.

4 responses to “PepsiCo Trying To Score Some Cheap Green Points

  1. They state it is recyclable, but everyone knows that a biobased plastic is only recyclable with other biobased plastics and not mainstream plastics. I believe the author is correct- we have another example of “green washing”.

    • Leslie, I don’t deny that I am correct in stating PepsiCo is green washing, but I don’t agree with your statement that biobased plastics can’t go in the recycling mainstream. There are (partly) plant-based plastics that can go into the mainstream without problems. The problem is: Who knows, and who is able to make the selection. That’s why I advocate not for a refined selective collection system, but for a selection system picking up all packaging and sort it out at the recycling plant. No consumer can know whether the packaging he used is bio-degradable, compostable, recyclable, etc., although he likes to be part of a better world. As always the industry is mainly green washing, so ultimately government regulations have to do the trick.

  2. You right on point cos I saw an online article on Coca Cola eco bottle claim and that was mid last year! but the whole eco thing is the best thing that can happen to the industry…at least for now.
    Nice write up.

  3. Some bioplastics are “drop-in bioplastics”, e.g. polyethylene made from sugar cane ethanol by the Braskem process, used now by P&G for cosmetics packaging. If recycled and made into permanent objects like playground equipment, carbon is sequestered. See diagram http://www.generalbiomass.com/renew1.htm
    Other bioplastics like PLA need to be separated from PE and PP. Sugars from nonfood biomass like sugar cane bagasse can be used to make PE which is indistinguishable from oil-based PE, and will eventually replace it. The problems of using multiple biomass feedstocks are indeed challenging. @drbiomass

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