by Marion Nestle
Dec 19 2011

Today’s oxymoron: a greener soda bottle

On the plastic bottle front, much is happening.

BPA plastics are banned from the European market, only to be replaced by other plastics that seem to have their own problems.  These are detailed in three articles in Food Additives and Contaminants dealing with the migration of chemicals from baby bottles.

  • Santillana et al.,  Migration of bisphenol A from polycarbonate baby bottles purchased in the Spanish market by liquid chromatography and fluorescence detection (2011); doi: 10.1080/19440049.2011.589036.
  • Simoneau, et al., Comparison of migration from polyethersulphone and polycarbonate baby bottles (2011) doi:10.1080/19440049.2011.604644.
  • Simoneau, et al.,  Identification and quantification of migration of chemicals from plastics baby bottles used as substitutes for polycarbonate, ( 2011); doi 10.1080/19440049.2011.644588.

In response to such concerns, soft drink companies are engaging in the latest form of “cola wars,” this time the race to greener bottles.  As the New York Times puts it,

Over their decades of competition, the battle between Coca-Cola and PepsiCo has taken on many colors — brown (cola), orange (juice), blue (sport drinks) and clear (water).

Now, they are fighting over green: The beverage rivals are racing to become the first to produce a plastic soda bottle made entirely from plants.

Coca-Cola has signed up with three biotechnology companies to produce materials for 100% plant-based bottles.  It already has some recyclable PlantBottles, but these are only 30% plant-based (mono-ethylene glycol, MEG).  The other 70% is purified terephthalic acid, PTA.  Coke says it will go to 100% plant-based by 2020.

PepsiCo says it is doing the same thing, only faster.

OK, plant-based.  But from what?

Coke says it is experimenting with Brazilian sugarcane, molasses, and other plant residue materials but might also use crops grown specifically for plastic production.  Pepsi says it will use agricultural waste products, such as corn husks, pine bark or orange peels.

What about corn?  Corn has already been used to produce plastics, but doing this is just like growing food crops for biofuels, causing land conversion, higher food prices, and heavy fertilizer use.

It will be good to get the harmful chemicals out of drink bottles.

But soft drinks are inherently wasteful of natural resources.  All the greenwashing in the world can’t hide that.

  • Cathy Richards

    Thank you Marion for this article. Too often the focus of how wasteful “drinks to go” are is on bottled water, but soft drinks are even worse — it’s still a bottle, but with soft drinks the carbon footprint is even worse since processing for the product uses many more resources.

    Not to mention the health impact of acidified, flavoured and/or sweetened drinks.

    And then there’s the chemistry of the container — I can’t imagine how we’ll ever make an inert food container other than glass.

    Many people are using stainless steel bottles now, but I’m sure there will be some backlash for that soon enough. It’s always somethin’!

  • Anthro


    Insightful as usual–I wonder if people will ever stop thinking they need to have a beverage in their hands most of the time? The “natural foods” industry is just as bad with all their “enhanced” waters and goofy juices and teas (all heavily sweetened).
    I would like to mention a beverage produced in Seattle by someone whose mother I know. It’s called Dry Soda. It’s very lightly sweetened, (45 or 60 calories, depending on flavor), very effervescent, and has unusual flavors–Rhubarb, Cucumber, Juniper Berry, and some others–and they are all clear and come in glass bottles! She created these as an alcohol alternative and that is how I use them–in place of wine most of the time.

    I have a ceramic cup (with plastic lid) for takeaway coffee–I don’t like the way it reacts with stainless steel.

    I realize that glass, being heavier than plastic, uses more fuel to ship, but if most people used beverages at my level, this wouldn’t be such a problem. Also, aren’t most sodas bottled locally?

    At least all my favorite beers still come in glass bottles!

  • Sean

    It’s important to remember that the bottles say “UP to 30% plant based materials” which really means it can just be .001%.

  • Chemtec

    If you can’t see it is it harmful? What if it taste good? BPA epoxy resin for lining corroded water distribution pipes is more common than ever. BPA for watewater pipes are used so the public won’t smell the alternative resin, styrene. BPA will pass through the treatment process into the waterways. It does make drinking water sweeter and most municipalities that have paid for this are happy because the process is GREEN. It is less disruptive because no excavation is required and the contractors/installers believe is has less of a “carbon footprint”, less machinery. It is well known that styrene is less toxic than the BPA and amines used as the curing agents. Styrene can be controlled easily by means of pre-treatment and capture technology. You have a choice on the soda or fruit juice container but you don’t know what’s in your pipe coating. These projects are funded by the ‘Clean Water Funds” and “State Revolving Funds”. Some are approved by the EPA but fail to monitor the projects. If a contractor works on your home, take a vacation during that period, it might be something you don’t want to watch.