New Plant-Based Bottles Degrade In Only a Year – And Could Herald The End Of Plastic

Environmental pollution is one of the main problems of modern society. It is causing severe and irreparable damage to nature and human society and its major effects on wildlife and ecosystems are increasingly felt these days.

Plastic and microplastics have severely polluted the oceans and water supplies, leaching carcinogenic toxins and chemicals into the environment.

Plastic has undoubtedly revolutionized the fields of medicine, transportation, hygiene, high technology, and food preservation, but single-use disposables largely contribute to the vicious cycle of increased plastic waste and pollution.

The UN estimates that 100 million tons of plastic are now accumulated in the oceans, and a report prepared for the 2016 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, predicted that plastic waste in the ocean will outweigh all fish by 2050.

Together with paper packaging material developer BillerudKorsnäs and bottle manufacturing specialist ALPLA, Dutch biochemical company Avantium is fundraising for their pioneering project, The Paper Bottle Project, that will sustainably convert grown crops into a plant-based plastic and could permanently change the way beverages are packaged.

The project has gained the attention of Danish beer manufacturer Carlsberg and multinational food and beverage titans Coca-Cola and Danone.

They signaled that they believe that a new plant-based plastic created from sugars extracted from sustainably-grown plants could replace fossil fuel-based plastics.

Avantium CEO Tom van Aken explained that they attempt to kick-start investment in a revolutionary new bioplastic plant in the Netherlands.

The brewery giant Carlsberg Group intends to sell its pilsner in cardboard bottles lined on the inside with the plant plastic soon.

Avantium posted a picture of Carlsberg’s paper bottle on Instagram, and Marcel Lubben, Avantium’s Managing Director, said:

“Participating in the Paper Bottle Project and collaborating with like-minded companies within the Paboco Pioneer Community -- from bottle manufacturers to consumer brands -- on developing new sustainable packaging material is a great opportunity for Avantium.

It is a milestone in the development of high-value applications such as specialty bottles. The Paper Bottle shows how we, together with partners, can use innovation to help shape packaging for a circular and sustainable future.”

The bio-refinery would break down sustainable plant sugars from corn, wheat, or beets into basic chemical structures that would later be rearranged for the creation of the new plant-based plastic.

The company intends to shift from raw food materials to plant sugars derived from sustainably sourced bio-waste. Avantium claims that its plant plastic is strong enough to contain carbonated drinks.

The bottles will be made from ‘PEF’, which is an entirely plant-based and recyclable polymer, with superior barrier and thermal properties to standard PEF.

Trials have shown that the plant plastic would decompose in a year using a composter and a few years longer when left outdoors.

Yet, Van Aken explains that it should be recycled, and added:

“This plastic has very attractive sustainability credentials because it uses no fossil fuels, and can be recycled – but would also degrade in nature much faster than normal plastics do.”

The project, which could land in supermarket shelves as soon as 2023, has been supported by Coca-Cola and Danone, both of which have been criticized for their contribution to the 300 million tons of fossil fuel-based plastic produced annually.

Van Aken stated that he hopes to have a major investment in the bioplastics plant by the end of 2020, and despite the coronavirus lockdown, the project has continued.

Later in the summer, they will reveal partnerships with other food and drink companies.

To make sure the rise of plant plastic won’t affect the global food supply chain, Avantium intends to use plant sugars from sustainably sourced biowaste.