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Plant-based bottle moves closer to the holy grail of bioplastics

04 January 2022

In line with its goal to transition to 100% recycled and plant-based PET bottles by 2030, the Suntory Group recently unveiled a prototype PET bottle made from 100% plant-based materials. 

The prototype bottle was developed in collaboration with US-based Anellotech for Suntory’s Orangina and Tennensui soft drinks brands in the European and Japanese markets, respectively. Given Suntory’s claims that its plant-based bottle overcomes several issues associated with bioplastics, it represents a step forward for the beverages industry towards the holy grail of biodegradable packaging, according to GlobalData, a data and analytics company.

Bobby Verghese, Consumer Analyst at GlobalData, said: “Compostable/biodegradable plastics are presently a lower priority than recyclable packaging for Japanese consumers validated by as GlobalData’s Q3 2021 consumer survey. Only 30% of Japanese respondents in the survey consider compostable/biodegradable an important factor in a product, when compared with 63% of respondents who prioritize easy to recycle products.

“This is partly as consumers are disillusioned by earlier plant-based packaging innovations, such as Coca-Cola’s PlantBottle, which failed to take off due to functional and cost challenges. Also, a large section of consumers are unsure how the biodegradable bottles will safeguard its contents.”

While bioplastics are touted as the penultimate solution for the plastic waste problem, most products have so far failed to match the performance of conventional oil-based plastics. Additionally, the cost of raw materials and overhauling existing manufacturing lines to accommodate bioplastics remain prohibitive. Moreover, bioplastics degrade only under specific ambient conditions, thereby posing an environmental threat. 

Cultivating crops for producing bioplastics also locks up agricultural land that could otherwise be used for food production.

Suntory claims its bioplastic material is made from two compounds – PTA and MEG – which are made from non-food biomass and non-food-grade feedstock, respectively, which minimises its impact on the food chain. The plant-based bottle is claimed to be generate far lower carbon emissions than petroleum-derived plastic bottles.

Verghese concludes: “Suntory’s plant-based bottle can attract 39% of Japanese consumers who consider products with reduced carbon footprint to be quite/extremely important, and 41% of consumers who say the same for products that are sustainable/made from renewable sources. However, the pros and cons of the bioplastic will only come to light after the full-fledged market launch.”

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