PepsiCo has set the bar with the development of a 100% plant-based PET bottle

PepsiCo has set the bar with the development of a 100% plant-based PET bottle

This week, PepsiCo laid claim to having developed the first PET plastic bottle made from plant-based, fully renewable resources. While the launch provides the company with a useful tool to fight rising commodity prices, PepsiCo tells just-drinks that it believes the development could draw a response from its soft drink rivals.

Two years ago, The Coca-Cola Co introduced the PlantBottle, made using 30% plant-based materials, specifically sugar-cane waste. In comparison, PepsiCo's bottle will be 100% made from plant waste. The bottle, PepsiCo says, is recyclable and made from bio-based raw materials, including switch grass, pine bark and corn husks.

The development will no doubt have been met with an element of surprise from the industry, given that around the time of Coca-Cola's launch in 2009 the company had stressed that the advent of a 100% plant-based bottle remained some time off.

So, it seems PepsiCo has  stolen a march on its closest rival. But, this may be due to the fact that, as a snack giant as well as a soft drinks producer, the company is able to utilise its agricultural waste for its own, sustainable purposes.

Speaking to just-drinks yesterday (16 March), PepsiCo's senior director of advanced research, Denise Lefebvre, says that being both a food and beverage company gave the firm "significant opportunities" to leverage its access to agricultural waste in order to deliver its latest innovation.

In the future, PepsiCo expects to broaden the renewable sources used to create its plant-based bottle to include orange peels, potato peels, oat hulls, and other agricultural by-products from its foods business.

"We really want to focus on driving our platforms around environmental sustainability as related to PET," Lefebvre says. "One is certainly increasing the recycling rate and increasing our bottle-to-bottle recycling. We're really driving that programme for PepsiCo in order to reduce our carbon footprint and have a better impact on the environment."

The bottle, Lefebvre says, was developed over several years, with "millions" spent on the project. The design will not be brand-specific and will launch across PepsiCo's global PET range. However, details on when, where or which brands will be piloted are still under wraps: A decision is expected in the next several months.

But, while PepsiCo says the process reinforces its 'Power of One' advantage - a term used by the firm to describe its goal of being a unified snack and beverage company - by driving beverage innovation via a food-based solution, the development is sure to also be highly cost efficient given soaring commodity costs.

Rising raw materials costs are a major concern for many soft drinks companies in 2011, with both PepsiCo and Coca-Cola already warning of increases at a global level. And last month, Britvic's share price slumped by 10% after it warned that higher-than-expected input costs will hit profits in its current fiscal year.

Lefebvre however, dismisses a link between the arrival of the new bottle and rising costs: "[The development] was all about driving our objectives for environmental sustainability, so that is how it began," she says. "We are aware of the issues with commodity costs and pricing … but it is not the driver."

The efforts of both PepsiCo and Coca-Cola to transform the image of their products appear to reflect wider environmentally-themed shifts taking place within many industries, including packaging.

While PepsiCo certainly appears to be leading the 'green' field, other manufacturers may now be scrambling to hit or surpass the bar that the snacks and soft drinks giant has set for the industry.

For now though, PepsiCo appears comfortable with that. "There is a tremendous amount of technology in bio-technology in so far as so many companies and manufacturers are researching these types of areas," Lefebvre says, "so I believe there is going to be a lot of activity in the marketplace amongst different sectors."