Questioning and understanding sustainability is often at the forefront of our minds when taking a sip from a bottle. Intuitively, when the term ‘plant-based bottle’ presents, it’s forgivable to assume that this would be the best choice for any company working to promote their message of sustainability. However, a deep dive into this world of meeting today’s needs while protecting future generations has taught us a lot.
The majority of plastic bottles are made from a material called PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate). This is due to its glass-like transparency, the ability to keep its contents fresh and its durability - it can hold a large volume of liquid while remaining lightweight and break-resistant. When PET has been recycled, it’s referred to as rPET. The only change here is that the bottle loses some of its transparency, so it takes on a more smokey appearance. rPET is highly recyclable with 94% of UK councils collecting these bottles from your doorstep, however when these bottles get put into the wrong bin or there are no designated recycling bins, it can take this material up to 450 years to decompose. This degradation process doesn’t reintroduce plastic into ecology, but it breaks down into smaller plastics which result in environmental pollution.
PLA (Polylactic Acid) has been growing in popularity over the last few years due to its ‘carbon neutral’ status and therefore its ability to help reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases. Made from fermented plant starch, usually corn, PLA is known as a plastic substitute and is fully biodegradable. It does however require certain degradation conditions. If kept in an environment above 60°C with a humidity of around 90%, the bottle will degrade within six months. Outside of these specific conditions the bottle can take up to 1000 years to decompose.
Another choice of bottle which is becoming increasingly popular is PHA, and this is a material produced by living organisms such as plants. Biodegradable and naturally occurring, PHA produces zero toxic waste and breaks down into CO2, water and organic waste, taking a maximum of five years to fully decompose. Sounding too good to be true? Unfortunately, it is. While PHA is seemingly the best choice, the material is so new that mainstream recycling systems aren’t accepting it as ‘recyclable’ material. This also applies to the PLA material, making both PHA and PLA even harder to recycle than PET and rPET, and ultimately going against our mission of sustainability.
With PLA and PHA being such new materials, and as the UK government works to find a way to make the recycling process much more accessible, we have chosen to use rPET bottles. This material has the greatest impact in terms of sustainability and while we believe that PLA and PHA are the future, there is still some work to be done before that system is fully ready.