Last week I attended a packaging sustainability conference in Houston. One speaker was from Coca Cola and I finally learned what they mean by the Plant Bottle. As you probably know, most soda, water and juice bottles are made from PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) – try saying that 3 times fast and you know what it is called PET. What Coca Cola has down is source some of the PET from plants. It is chemically the same as PET from petroleum. The only difference is in the sourcing, not the product. This means that the Plant Bottle can go into PET recycling. In fact, Coca Cola is sourcing only 30% of the PET from plants and the rest from petroleum stocks, although it intends to up that percentage over time.
This means that PET can be made from raw materials other than petroleum but it does not change what is done with the PET post-consumer. The Plant Bottle may be sourced from plants, at least in part, but it is not compostable at all, since its chemical structure is the same as PET from typical sources.
On the other hand, bottles can also be made from PLA (polylactic acid), whose raw material is also plants (usually sugar or corn). PLA can not be recycled post-consumer the same way as PET, since its chemical structure is different from PET. Putting PLA bottles in the PET recycling stream contaminates the waste stream and makes it all unusable. PLA can be composted in an industrial composting operation. This is not for home composting, since a home compost cannot generate the necessary heat to make the composting process work.
FYI, all of this stuff can be burned in a cogen facility, but that may not be the highest or best use.
If you wonder why consumers are confused, trying to keep this straight and be responsible in their purchases is stress inducing.
Some of these same options exist in film and its alternatives. We have tested PLA film and cellulose films, although the most common film used inwrapping is Polypropylene, most commonly BOPP (biaxially oriented polypropylene).
For more information about what are the choices and properties of various wrapping materials, look at our whitepapers, specifically the Guide to Wrapping Materials.