Going green Nestlé and Danone team up to produce green plastic

A Ghanaian cattle herder leads his cattle across the polluted Korle Gono beach, covered in plastic bottles and other rubbish washed ashore in June 2016

A Ghanaian cattle herder leads his cattle across the polluted Korle Gono beach, covered in plastic bottles and other rubbish washed ashore in June 2016


(Keystone)

More used to battling it out over mineral water and baby milk, Swiss group Nestlé and its smaller French rival Danone have joined forces to create a greener plastic bottle. 

In a sign of the rising pressure manufacturers are facing from environmental campaigners, the food and drinks groups are funding Origin Materials, a Californian biotech company. They are investing an undisclosed sum to accelerate its efforts to develop plastic made from waste such as sawdust or old cardboard instead of petroleum. 

Plastic production has soared 20-fold in the past 50 years, according to industry estimates, creating more of the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming and a growing waste and litter problem on land and at sea. 

 

Drinks companies, including PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, have been vying with each other for years over which could produce the most plant-based plastic bottle. 

But some of these efforts have involved plastic derived from biofuels made of sugar or other crops that campaigners argue creates competition for land and food. Critics have also raised concerns about how biodegradable some newer plastics are. 

Nestlé and Danone say they will make their plastic entirely from waste materials such as sawdust or farm crop residues. The two groups are teaming up for the investment because they say it will help speed up the development of the plastic. 

Asked if the new material would be any more biodegradable than the plastic in the companies' current bottles, Klaus Hartwig, head of research and development at Nestlé Waters, said he believed it was better to make plastic from renewable raw materials and then ensure it was properly recycled. 

This was better for the environment than "changing the chemistry of your material and hoping it disappears afterwards", he told the Financial Times. "The goal that we have is a lighter environmental footprint." 

The companies hope to produce commercial quantities of bottles made almost entirely from their new plastic by 2020, though it is not yet clear which of their products will end up in those containers. 

Nestlé's bottled water brands include Perrier while Danone has Evian. 

The companies say their collaboration could lead to significant changes. 

"I would say 100 per cent of our bottles long term will be made without a drop of oil," said Frederic Jouin, head of research and development for plastic materials at Danone. 

They also say they will make their technology accessible to the entire beverage industry. 

But many environmental campaigners are still wary of the push for so-called bioplastics, arguing they create confusion among consumers who think they are greener than they often are. 

"We're not completely against bioplastics and they have a role to play," said Meadhbh Bolger, a resource justice campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe. 

"But do we need these single-use plastic bottles in the first place or is there a more sustainable option such as reusable glass?"

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017

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