Surprise! Pepsi’s New Plant Bottle Is Good Old-Fashioned Greenwashing
First things first: It’s great that companies are looking for alternatives to plastic, and there’s huge potential for bioplastics to be a big part of the solution to our single-use plastic problem. On that note, Pepsi and Coca Cola deserve kudos for putting their money where their press releases are and investing in research for new materials. At the same time, if companies get a big pat on the back for new packaging materials that come with the same old problems, then they stop trying to do better and we all lose. Furthermore, if we replace one disposable item with another, how is that really a solution?
Unfortunately, this is where we’re at with the Pepsi “plant bottle” announced yesterday. The headlines were filled with praise for the company for using nothing but cast-off plant parts in its bottle (plus points for not using a food-based crop as the feedstock), and for beating Coca Cola to the punch by delivering a 100-percent plant-based bottle. The problem is that the bottle is still PET, just like regular old plastic water bottles, it’s just that Pepsi’s plant-based PET is made from agricultural waste and non-food crops like switch grass, while the average plastic bottle is made from petroleum.
What was not included in Pepsi’s announcement, nor in any of the subsequent articles about the plant bottle, was the fact that the disposal issue remains the same. Whether plant-based or petroleum-based, PET still poses a waste management problem. In fact, in some ways it might even be worse. As Captain Charles Moore, of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, points out, switching the source material from petroleum to plants just means that plastic water bottles will continue to be a problem once oil runs out. In that sense, Pepsi’s move to a plant-based bottle looks like more of a supply chain solution than a particularly “green” business practice.
“A plastic such as PET, or high-density polyethylene HDPE, can be 100 percent bio-based (for instance 100 percent organic hemp), and yet still be non-biodegradable,” says Manuel Maqueda, of BlooSee. “The public, however, is led to think that any bio-based plastic is biodegradable, which is not at all the case.”
It’s this end-of-life issue that concerns Daniella Russo, executive director of Plastic Pollution Coalition. “A 100-percent plant-based PET bottle would be great along with a recycling system to capture and process the material,” she says. “Otherwise they will all end up in landfills, incinerators and the environment……most composters do not want the material.”
Despite Pepsi Co.’s claim that its plant bottle exists in a “closed loop system,” Russo argues that the company has effectively dodged end-of-life responsibility for the bottles by passing that responsiblity off to consumers. “The claim of a closed loop system is not justified without the consumer end of the loop being closed,” she says. “The onus is still on consumers to turn in the bottles.”
Moreover, a recent study found that in some cases the process of creating plant-based plastics is actually more polluting than the traditional plastic manufacturing process.
So, thanks for trying, Pepsi, but we think you can do better. In fact, we’re certain you can.
This post originally appeared on Plastic Free Times.
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