The initiative has received backing from both the US and China – both governments have expanded their EcoPartnership programme, and one of the partnerships selected was Coca-Cola’s collaboration with China’s Yangtze River Delta Research Institute of Circular Economy to advance technologies in this field.

The aim is to turn the potential of agricultural waste into a reality for polyester production. China currently is the largest global supplier of polyester for fibres and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) resin primarily used in beverage containers.

Global demand for polyester is predicted to continue growing at an average of 7% per year, up from 5% over the past decade. China’s domestic growth and constraints on local cotton production – arising from a lack of arable land availability and competition from food crops – are helping drive this increase in polyester demand.

Coca-Cola’s target is to have 100% of the PET plastic it uses in its bottles contain first-generation PlantBottle material by 2020.

Coca-Cola’s PlantBottle general manager Scott Vitters said that with the company’s large market share, its commitment would be instrumental in catalysing transformational change across the PET plastic industry in China and other markets around the world.

“To realise the full sustainability benefits of PlantBottle, it is essential for the source of plant-based material used to deliver better performance,” he explained.

“Currently, we are assessing the performance of several local plant sources in both China and the US that may meet our company’s strict environmental and social performance requirements.

“Several promising technologies that use biomass, or agricultural wastes, are showing particular promise if they can be brought to commercial scale.”

He added that additional advantages to using agricultural wastes may include increasing farmer value and mitigating air pollution caused by traditional waste burning practices.

Coca-Cola’s PlantBottle technology currently uses natural sugars found in plants to make ingredients identical to the fossil-based ones traditionally used in polyester fibres and resin.

Maxine Perella

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