Coke and Pepsi foresee a biobased PET future for bottles

By 2020, the company is hoping for a 100% virgin resin Plant Bottle. In the coming years, the company also plans to simplify the now circuitous journey taken by the various components of the PET. By the 2014-2015 time frame, Coke plans on having multiple MEG sources and PET sources, instead of only Brazil, India and Indonesia.

PepsiCo, which was already able to get to a 100% biobased bottle, was able to polymerize a few kilograms of its green PET, even producing a bottle, although not in quantities beyond lab scale at this point. Socci said that ultimately, PepsiCo will look internally for the feedstocks that will create the green PET, applying what he called "underutilized agricultural residue" from the company's existing suite of products. In this scenario, biomass in the form of oat hulls (Quaker Oats), orange peels (Tropicana), and potato peels (Lays) could be used.

PepsiCo is the largest food and beverage company in the U.S., and No. 2 globally, with nineteen $1 billion brands in its portfolio. Socci told the Biopolymers audience that his company buys 4 million tons of packaging materials and that it is committed to 10% PCR-PET in beverage packaging. The company has also aggressively lightweighted its containers, dropping its flagship Aquafina bottled water brand from 13.2 to 10.9 g. In 2009, it began packaging its Naked 32-oz fruit juices in 100% PCR bottles, with 10 and 15.2 oz sizes launched in 2010. Overall the company has cut its virgin PET consumption by 7 million lb. The company hopes to reach a recycling rate for its packaging of 50% by 2018.

Coke's emphasis on biobased PET will also greatly influence the packaging market. The company has 300 bottling partners and 900-plus local manufacturing facilities. Fully 60% of its packaging mix today is derived from PET. "Plastics are very important to our business," Schultheis said, noting that his company makes about 80% of its own bottles. It's that exposure to plastics, and the volatility of their fossil-fuel based feedstocks, that has the most recognized brand in the world rethinking its packaging.

"I don't think anyone is betting long term that the price of oil is going to go down or the availability is going to go up," Schultheis said, "so one of the strategies here is that we'll be able to de-link our supply chains, not completely, but certainly largely from fossil based fuels, and where those are currently controlled have much more flexibility in feedstocks for packaging materials. PET, whether it bio-based or petroleum-based, is going to have the same great performance at the end of the day, including recyclability.