Just a couple weeks ago, we looked into a new microbe, with whose help scientists are hoping to recycle PET plastics back into PET plastics with no degradation in quality. (No mean feat considering said microbes essentially eat the plastic — what comes out the “other end” is the new material!). While this development is great in that it transforms previously single-use plastics into multi-use, humanity should be moving toward (ideally) a model where we use as little as possible of any plastics at all.
But, since plastics are so interwoven into our lives, we have to take baby steps. To that end, Dutch biochemical corporation Avantium has gone ahead and redefined the concept of “plastic”: inventing a way to replace PET-like plastics in things like drinking bottles with all-plant sources — not fossil fuels! Coca-Cola, Danone, and Carlsberg have all pledged backing for the pathfinder project, with plans to manufacture cardboard “bottles” for their products, lined with the new plant plastic, in the near future.
“Avantium’s plant plastic is designed to be resilient enough to contain carbonated drinks. Trials have shown that the plant plastic would decompose in one year using a composter, and a few years longer if left in normal outdoor conditions. But ideally, it should be recycled, said [Avantium CEO Tom] Van Aken.
The bio-refinery plans to break down sustainable plant sugars into simple chemical structures that can then be rearranged to form a new plant-based plastic – which could appear on supermarket shelves by 2023.
The path-finder project will initially make a modest 5,000 tonnes of plastic every year using sugars from corn, wheat or beets. However, Avantium expects its production to grow as demand for renewable plastics climbs.”
This is the kind of renewable, refreshing innovation I like to see, and one that might ultimately sustainable for us. As we’ve seen with other environmental initiatives, often the greatest obstacle the habits of people (and our corporations, which in some jurisdictions, are people too). People are irrational and love our routines, so relying on all of us to abandon plastics and haul heavy mason jars full of water to the park is a non-starter. But, stealthily replace plastic in its most common uses with something far better, and we don’t have to disturb our precious routines. Which is GREAT. So, sign me up for the first cold beer in a cardboard bottle when they arrive on our shores! “Cheers!” will sound different — but it’ll taste far sweeter.