Companies Join to Squeeze Oil Out of Products

An interesting group of companies are getting together to accelerate development and use of plant-based plastic and fiber in products: Coca-Cola, Ford Motor, H.J. Heinz, Nike, and Procter & Gamble. 

They formed the Plant PET Technology Collaborative to replace petroleum-based PET with 100% plant-based PET. 

Common plastics consisting of petroleum-based PET, like soda bottles, have the recycling symbol #1 on the bottom.

The companies use this durable, lightweight plastic in products such as plastic bottles, apparel, footwear and automotive fabric and carpet.

Coca-Cola’s PlantBottleTM packaging technology, which Heinz licenses for some ketchup bottles in the US and Canada, is partially plant-based. The collaborative wants to build on this by supporting new 100% plant-based technologies.

By leveraging the research and development efforts of the founding companies, the group aims to develop commercially viable, more sustainably sourced materials that can be used in many industries. Their goal is to develop common methods and standards for the use of plant-based plastic including life cycle analyses and universal terminology.

"Fossil fuels like oil have significant impacts to the planet’s biodiversity, climate and other natural systems," says Erin Simon, Senior Program Officer of Packaging for World Wildlife Fund. "Sustainably managing our natural resources and finding alternatives to fossil fuels are both business and environmental imperatives. It’s encouraging to see these leading companies use their market influence to reduce dependence on petroleum-based plastics. We hope other companies will follow their lead."

Motivation for the Change 

For decades, companies have been pressured to switch to more sustainable products, and now they are responding.

It’s a double win for them – better relationships with the community and potentially cheaper, more stable prices for companies, now that oil prices are volatile and will only go higher over the long-term.

"When oil was cheap, it became pervasive throughout our economy in hundreds and hundreds of invisible ways, as a raw material," Daniel Yergin, an energy consultant who wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning history of the oil industry, told the LA Times. "Now there are accelerating efforts to squeeze oil out and find ways to substitute for it. That is the power of price."

24% of the crude oil consumed in the US is used in manufacturing processes, according to the Department of Energy.

Coke wants to use plant-based material for all packaging by 2020, and Pepsi has already developed an all-plant based bottle.

Ford uses soy-based foam seat padding in all North American vehicles now, noting the reductions it achieves in energy consumption, waste and CO2 emissions by eliminating 5 million pounds of petroleum a year. It eliminates another 300,000 pounds of petroleum by making door cushioning with kenaf and is even experimenting with dandelions to make rubber.

Plenty of other companies are doing the same, including Toyota, which uses "ecological plastic" in interior vehicle parts and AT&T, which made a commitment to minimize the environmental impact of its packaging. Last year, it was the first telecom firm to use 30% sugarcane materials to package wireless accessories. The furniture and mattress industries are moving to soy foam.

A slew of companies, some of which went public last year, are developing processes to supply plant-based materials, such as Verdezyne, Gevo, Solazyme, and Elevance Renewable Sciences.

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