Plants to Plastic?

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This week, PepsiCo announced the development of a 100% plant-based PET plastic bottle, of which they will produce several hundred thousand in 2012.  Provided success in their test drive they will eventually use only this technology for their bottles, completely replacing the petroleum-based PET plastic that is currently used.  The bottle is made from bio-materials such as switch grass, pine bark, and corn husks.  A University of Pittsburgh study argues, however, that plant-based plastics are not necessarily more environmentally friendly than petroleum-based ones.  According to the study, plant-based plastics are more biodegradable, less toxic, and make better use of renewable resources than other plastics, but the extremely energy intensive nature of agriculture and the environmental costs from using chemicals to grow the plants, make it questionable as to whether it is actually a good alternative.  In the future, PepsiCo plans to use byproducts from their other brands such as orange rinds (Tropicana) and potato peels (Frito Lay) to make these bottles, which takes away the argument that the bottles are not more environmentally friendly.  Provided this new technology proves to be feasible, the environmental effects will be huge.  For perspective, Coca-Cola has currently produced 2.5 million bottles made of 30% plant materials, which is said to be the equivalent of saving 3 million gallons of gasoline.

With rising prices of oil, bio-plastics alternatives are moving towards becoming the cheaper plastic.  Cereplast, a company that makes such plastics, says that once oil reaches $95 a barrel, their plastics are cheaper to make than regular plastics.  According to http://www.oil-price.net/, oil prices are slightly higher than this already ranging from $97-110 per barrel.  As for the environmental effects, Frederic Scheer, Cereplast’s owner says, “Each time you create one kilo of traditional polypropylene, you create 3.15 kilos of carbon dioxide. When we create one kilo of bio-propylene, we create 1.40 kilos of carbon dioxide, so clearly you have a substantial saving with respect to greenhouse gases, creating a much better carbon footprint for the product.”  A transition from petroleum-based plastic to plant-based may not be as far-fetched as it seems.

-Kelly

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4 Responses to “Plants to Plastic?”

  1. Klick says:

    There’s no place like home.

  2. Dr. Szulczewski says:

    Excellent information, very thought-provoking about the complex choices we face. But what do YOU think about this new plastic?

  3. kbrown says:

    Thanks! I’m glad you like it. I think that with all of the advancements in modern technology they will eventually be able to reach their goal of using byproducts to make the plastic. I don’t think they are using less plastic, just plastic made from different sources.

  4. Aliyah says:

    This is a really interesting post. Hopefully PepsiCo will be able to use orange rinds and potato peels to make their bottles. I think its a step in the right direction.