A crushed plastic bottle

Plant-based plastic bottles could degrade in a year

Companies including Carlsberg and Coca-Cola have backed a pioneering project to make easily biodegradable ‘all-plant’ drinks bottles using sustainably grown crops.

The plans, devised by renewable chemicals company Avantium, based in The Netherlands, aim to tackle the issue of the 300 million tonnes of plastic currently made from fossil fuels every year, most of which is not recycled.

The biorefinery will manufacture the plant plastic by breaking down sustainable plant sugars into simple chemical structures that can then be rearranged to form a new plant-based plastic, and the finished product looks set to appear on supermarket shelves by 2023.

Trials have shown that this new plastic decomposes in one year using a composter and a few years longer if left in normal outdoor conditions, while fossil fuel plastic that can take hundreds of years for the same process to occur.

“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,” Avantium’s chief executive, Tom Van Aken told The Guardian.

Sugars extracted from wheat, along with corn and beets, will be used to produce the plant plastic.

Designed to be resilient enough to contain carbonate drinks, it has attracted the attention of drinks companies in particular, including Carlsberg, which is aiming to sell its pilsner in a cardboard bottle lined with an inner layer of the material in due course. Avantium also hopes to reveal partnerships with other food and drink companies later in the summer.

Manufacture will initially be a modest 5,000 tonnes of plastic annually using sugars from corn, wheat or beets. However, Avantium expects production to grow as demand rises, with plans to use plant sugars from sustainably sourced biowaste in time so that the rise of plant plastic does not affect the global food supply chain.

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