Plastic Made From Plants: PepsiCo Announces New Green Bottle

After years of research and development, PepsiCo says they've mastered the petroleum-free plastic bottle, and plans to put bottles made from 100% renewable plant material in the hands of consumers in the near future.  PepsiCo's announcement is a great victory in the movement toward sustainable packaging.

New Plastic Bottles Made From...Potato Peels?
Remember the scene in Back to the Future when Doc fuels the time machine by stuffing trash into the fuel tank?  The future of PepsiCo's plant-based plastic production will be something like that.  PepsiCo plans to use the “agricultural by-products” from their other products as the plant source for their plastic.  Since PepsiCo is the parent company of brands such as Tropicana and Frito Lay, the by-products will include things like orange rinds and potato peels, reducing waste from production and creating plastic bottles without the need for petroleum.

But the system isn't quite so streamlined yet.  The plant-based plastic bottles that PepsiCo is currently bragging about were created from renewable sources such as corn husks, pine bark and switch grass.  The plan to use waste from other PepsiCo products to create Pepsi bottles is still set in the unspecified future, so there's still a bit of science fiction to it.

PepsiCo will begin test-driving the renewable plastic bottles in 2012, and plans to launch full-scale production for all their beverage containers soon after that.  Plant-based plastic bottles are identical to petroleum-based plastic bottles in terms of texture and strength, and are 100% recyclable.

Is Plant-Based Plastic Actually Greener?
According to a 2010 study conducted at the University of Pittsburg, the answer to that question is...maybe.  The study compared a number of petroleum-based plastics with plant-based plastics and found that plant-based plastics were in fact more biodegradable and less toxic than petroleum-based plastic.  However, the Pittsburg scientists argue that plant-based plastic take more energy to produce and the environmental effects of pesticides and agricultural waste should also be taken into account before calling this a green alternative.

If PepsiCo is able to implement its plan of using agricultural by-products as the primary source for their plant-based plastic, they will be successfully changing Pittsburg's “maybe” to a “yes.”  After all, if a field of potatoes is already being grown to make potato chips for Frito Lay, then few additional agricultural resources are needed to take the peels of those potatoes and send them to the plastic factory.

Photo Credit:  Keo 101