Five leading US global companies, including Coca-Cola and Ford, unveiled Tuesday a joint effort to develop 100 percent plant-based plastics in their products, cutting the use of fossil fuels.
Coca-Cola, Ford, Heinz, Nike and Procter & Gamble said they were launching a working group focused on speeding up the development and use of 100 percent plant-based PET plastic.
PET, also known as polyethylene terephthalate, is a durable, lightweight plastic. All five companies use PET based on fossil fuels like oil in bottles, apparel, footwear and automotive fabric and carpet.
The companies pledged in a joint statement "to champion and support research, expand knowledge and accelerate technology development to enable commercially viable, more sustainably sourced, 100 percent plant-based PET plastic while reducing the use of fossil fuels."
The jump on the green bandwagon came after PepsiCo, Coke's arch-rival, announced in March 2011 it had developed the world's first PET plastic bottle made entirely from plants.
It also came after months of rising oil prices that have squeezed company profit margins.
The companies said their new working group, the Plant PET Technology Collaborative, would build upon the success of Coca-Cola's PlantBottle packaging technology, "which is partially made from plants and has demonstrated a lower environmental impact when compared to traditional PET plastic bottles."
Currently, Heinz licenses the Coke bottle technology for select Heinz ketchup bottles in the United States and Canada.
According to the National Association for PET Container Resources, PET is the most widely recycled plastic in the world.
But critics argue the move to plant-based plastics is not a greener solution to reducing plastic pollution. Whether made from petroleum or renewable plants, the molecular structure of PET is the same: the plastic takes an extremely long time to degrade and it pollutes landfills and oceans.
However, Erin Simon at the World Wildlife Fund welcomed Tuesday's announcement of a new effort to reduce the use of fossil fuels, citing their significant impacts to the planet's biodiversity, climate and other natural systems.
"Sustainably managing our natural resources and finding alternatives to fossil fuels are both business and environmental imperatives. It's encouraging to see these leading companies use their market influence to reduce dependence on petroleum-based plastics," said Simon, a senior packaging expert, in the companies' statement.