There was an article in yesterday’s WSJ that discussed Coke’s new “PlantBottles” which are partially made out of sugar cane. They hope to sell two billion of these by the end of this year. I would hope that by now most of us are aware that plastic bottles are a problem. There’s a toxic island of plastic twice the size of Texas floating in the Pacific, and the chemicals found in PET bottles have been linked to infertility in women among other bad things. The world’s major bottled beverage companies like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Nestlé have all been responding with technology, like plant-derived plastics and “lightweighting” — a strategy that involves using less plastic in each bottle. All this helps to reduce their carbon footprint, but given that much of the problem is the sad fact that a majority of these bottles don’t end up recycled, I don’t see it having nearly as much impact as encouraging people to refill their own bottles à la Brita and Nalgene.
Last summer, Coca-Cola Japan launched a new brand of water called ILOHAS that is packaged in super-lightweight plastic bottles. LOHAS,which stands for “Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability,” has been a huge buzzword in Japan for the last few years and it’s frankly rather misleading (and predictable) of Coca-Cola to appropriate that term for a line of bottled waters. As much as I think that these easily crushable bottles that contain less plastic than conventional bottles are a step in the right direction, it seems dishonest to generate such a green aura around something that is so inherently un-eco as drinking water out of petroleum-based plastic bottles in a country that has perfectly fine drinking water coming out of its taps. But hey, an improvement is an improvement, and as long as people are going to continue to buy bottled beverages it might as well be contained in something that will take up less room when smashed up in a landfill or floating in the ocean somewhere. I predict that once the price points come down on home carbonators like SodaStream, we’ll start seeing some real progress. Let’s hope that starts happening sooner rather than later!