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Bye-bye plastic? Coca-Cola and Carlsberg to produce all-plant bottles that decompose in just a year

Globally, nearly 300 million tonnes of plastic is made from fossil fuels each year, and a single plastic bags take up to 500 years to completely break down via natural processes
UPDATED MAY 18, 2020
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Ever since its invention some 300 years ago, plastic has become an indispensable part of our lives. It is ubiquitous and versatile, comprising most of our belongings—right from automobiles to the tip of our shoelaces. However, there's one major downside to its success story. It is a synthetic material that does not break down easily. It also does a lot of harm to the environment and can have devastating effects on wildlife. Over the last few years, people have become mindful of their plastic use and many now practice reusing and recycling. However, to stop the negative impact plastic has on nature, we need to work towards cutting-off our dependence on it altogether. 

We tend to use plastics for a limited amount of time, and swiftly get rid of them not knowing the consequences it will have on the environment. Globally, nearly 300 million tonnes of plastic is made from fossil fuels each year, and a single plastic bags take up to 500 years to completely break down via natural processes and is a major ocean pollutant. If you ever walk along a beach you're bound to find hoards of plastic products washing up ashore, and it reportedly makes up 80% of the total wastes found in oceans. Hence, there is a dire need for newer alternatives in order to reduce or cease the use of plastic.

(Getty Images)

Recyclable plastics and biodegradable plastics have made headlines as being an eco-friendly option for synthetic plastics, and various industries have slowly begun to adopt these in their manufacturing process. Now, two renowned beverage companies are jumping on the bandwagon to a sustainable future. Avantium, a biochemical company based in the Netherlands is hoping to gather investment to pioneer a project aimed at creating plastics from plant sugars. It is believed that Coca-Cola and Carlsberg are now onboard. The famed beer company reportedly hopes to sell its lager in a cardboard bottle with its inside lined in a layer of plant plastic if all goes well. 

“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,” says said Tom van Aken, the chief executive at Avantium to the Guardian. He hopes that the new project will garner the world's leading bioplastic plant with enough investment by the end of the year. The project remains in operation even amid the lockdown, and partnerships with other food and drink companies are set to be revealed later this summer.

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Avantium's plant-based plastic is designed to hold carbonated drinks, as studies have shown that plastics derived from plants are more likely to decompose within a year if fed into a composter. It takes only a few extra years to decompose under normal setting, but can ideally also be recycled, said Van Aken. The bio plant's intention is to break down sustainable pant sugars, down to simple chemical compounds, and restructured it to form a new plant-based plastic - which is estimated to be in use by 2023. 

This breakthrough project target is 5,000 plastics every year, made from sugars of corn, wheat or beets, and Avantium hopes to expand production with the growth in demand for renewable plastics. Furthermore, the bio-refinery hopes to switch to using plant sugars from sustainably sourced biowaste, so the spike in plant plastic does not affect the global supply food chain. 

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According to the 'Biodegradable Plastic Market by Type and Application: Global Opportunity Analysis and Industry Forecast, 2019-2026' report, the global biodegradable plastic market was estimated to be worth $1.2 billion in 2018. The report predicts that it will close in on $6 billion by 2026, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 21.3% from 2019 to 2026. While the biodegradable plastic market is still developing, the scope for growth has expanded rapidly with the increasing awareness of bio-based products. One of the biodegradable plastics, PHA, however, is yet to be put on the market, as it has been scrutinized for high-price. 

In 2018, the packaging industry contributed to 80% of the total global biodegradable plastic market with its consumption. Starch blends have been increasingly utilized in the production of biodegradable plastics as compared to any other bio alternative. Starch blend plastics emerged at 40% with maximum market shares in 2018. A prominent reason for the dependence on starch blends is its tendency to reduce carbon footprints of traditional resins as they replace polymers made from fossil fuels, with natural ones. 

Furthermore, Europe is currently the largest consumer of biodegradable plastics in its market, and the forecast predicts that it will remain the largest consumer as it has eliminated single-use plastics across major parts of the continent. It is predicted to account for a share of more than 50% to the global market by 2026.