A senior scientist with the
Natural Resources Defense Council said we’re seeing the beginning of the end of
petroleum-based plastics, after Pepsi announced that it would begin testing a
100 percent plant-based PET bottle. Is that overstating things? What do you see
the future holding? Andrew H. Dent, Vice President, Library and Materials Research, Material ConneXion:
|"It may well be a glimpse of 'the beginning of the end' for petroleum-based plastics, but I wouldn’t hold my breath!"
|"I am very excited by this development, [but] I fear it may be overstating things quite a bit."
|"I don't believe that the use of petroleum based plastics is coming to an end just yet, but it’s a start."
I welcome the
developments we have seen from beverage companies such as Pepsi and Coca Cola to
increase the amount of plant based raw materials used in their packaging, and I
hope many others will follow suit. The use of plant based plastics has been seen
most in food service and packaging, and it may well be a glimpse of “the
beginning of the end” for petroleum-based plastics, but I wouldn’t hold my
breath! Some of the more basic packaging containers lend themselves well to this
change, but there are many other more demanding applications, whether they are
in the packaging of more volatile or corrosive contents such as fragrances,
cleansers, bleaches that require multilayered packaging or more resistant
materials than the plant based solutions can currently handle easily.
beyond packaging to the wide world of plastics, there are many engineering
plastics that cannot currently be replaced by plant based solutions - again in
the more demanding higher performance or more corrosive environments - and in
applications that use higher molecular weight plastics it is hard to see how
plant based solutions could ever replace current solutions. I am optimistic
however, so given how innovative chemists have been in creating our current
range of amazing plastics over the last 40 years, think what they could do for
these new plant based versions! Tom Szaky, Founder and CEO, TerraCycle:
I am very excited by this development and commend Pepsi for their action and effort, [but] I fear it may be overstating things quite a bit. As I see it there are two main challenges to bio-plastics and compostable packaging:
- Consumer response. Look at what happened with SunChips, a compostable chip bag was pulled because of consumer complaints about the noise. What will we (the American consumer) find wrong with a plant-based plastic bottle? The feel? The smell? The taste? I cringe at the though of what we will find wrong next.
- Pepsi is a massive company with nearly endless resources and a highly entrenched brand. I fear too many small companies, private labelers, generic manufactures will not soon have the resources to pull off this kind of switch.
I hope that I am wrong, but I don’t see the end of petroleum based plastic coming soon enough. After all the first electric car was sold in the 70’s. Eric
Hartman, Director Packaging Technologies and Commercialization, Product Ventures:
do applaud Pepsi's announcement that it will soon begin testing a 100% plant
based PET bottle. Ultimately, moving away from petrochemical derived polymers to
those that are sourced from renewable resources, is what we must do in order to
improve the sustainability of packaging.
Unfortunately, most of the
infrastructure that supports the production of these "plant based" polymers is
still heavily dependent on the use of petrochemicals as a source of energy, and
the amount of petroleum that actually goes into the production of plastics is
relatively small. Just like it took us the last 100 years to develop a society
based on the use and exploitation of petroleum resources, it will take us time
to wean ourselves off of them and embrace the use of alternative technologies to
create materials similar to what we use today. I don't believe that the use of
petroleum based plastics is coming to an end just yet, but it’s a start. As the
Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu said in the 5th century BC, “A journey of a thousand
miles begins with a single step”.