Avantium says it has found ways to start with plant sugars and transform them into a plastic capable of standing up to carbonated beverages like soda and beer but which will also break down in as little as a year in a composter or 3 years if left exposed to the elements.
Coca Cola and Carlsberg are cooperating with Avantium to develop new drink packaging, which could be in stores as soon as 2023. Tom van Aken, CEO of Avantium, tells The Guardian that his company plans to make a major investment in plant-based plastic production by the end of this year. Other food and drink companies have also expressed an interest in the new technology. “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,” Van Aken says.
The new packaging would be completely different from what beverage companies use today. Instead of a clear or tinted bottle, their products would come inside a cardboard container with a liner made of plant-based plastic. It may take the marketplace a while to adapt to the change, but milk and many other liquid foods are now sold in cardboard containers even though they used to come in glass bottles.
The company plans to start small, making a mere 5,000 tons of plant-based plastic a year until the suitability of the material is proven in actual use and the willingness of consumers to accept the new packaging can be assessed. At present, the source for the plant-based sugar will be corn, wheat, or beets, but in the future, any plants, even biowaste, could be used as a source. Photosynthesis basically comes down to turning organic materials into sugars using sunlight, so all growing things are a potential source of sugars that chemists can rearrange in the lab to create substitutes for plastics derived from oil.