Are Eco-Bottles the Next Big Beverage Battle?

March has already brought a great deal of activity in packaging innovation, from the incorporation of 100 percent recycled PET to the use of plant polymers in some bottles. Most notable so far has been PepsiCo’s announcement that it had “cracked the code” on a commercially viable bottle made of 100 percent bio-based plant materials. With the Coca-Cola Co. also working on various plant-based bottles – they’ve got one that’s at 30 percent – it’s entertaining to think that environmentally-friendly products could be the battleground for new kind of Cola War, as the Associated Press put it in a recent story.

PepsiCo made the announcement in the midst of a huge interactive push at SXSW 2011, stating that the “green” bottle looks, feels and protects beverages in exactly the same way as its current bottle. The new bottle is still plastic, but made from raw bio-based plant materials used to create a molecular structure that is chemically identical to petroleum-based PET.

The company currently uses switch grass, pine bark and corn husks in the bottle’s production and plans to eventually use orange peels, potato peels, oat hulls and other agricultural waste from its foods business. But while the bottle is fully recyclable, it is not biodegradable or compostable.

PepsiCo will test production of the bottle in 2012 and upon a successful completion, will move to commercialize the product across all of its beverage lines.

But it’s not the only company pushing forward in environmentally sustainable packaging. At the just-concluded Natural Products Expo West, several companies were offering bottles that contained high levels of recycled post-consumer waste, including Activate Drinks, which was at 100 percent post-consumer. Other varieties of plant-based bottles are also already in use, although they tend to be made from plant crops grown specifically for that purpose.