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The bottle is made from switch grass, pine bark and corn husks, among other materials. Ultimately, Pepsi plans to also use orange peels, oat hulls, potato scraps and other leftovers from its food business.
The new bottle looks and feels the same as the current bottle, said Rocco Papalia, senior vice president of advanced research at PepsiCo. "It's indistinguishable," he said.
Coca-Cola Co. currently produces a bottle using 30 percent plant-based materials and recently estimated it would be several years before it has a 100 percent plant bottle that's commercially viable.
"We've cracked the code," Papalia said.
PepsiCo said it plans to test the product next year in a few hundred thousand bottles. Once the company is sure it can successfully produce the bottle at that scale, it will begin converting all its products over.
That could mean a switch of billions of bottles sold each year. Of Pepsi's 19 biggest brands, 11 are beverage brands that use PET plastic bottles.
Scientists said the technology is an important innovation in packaging. "This is the beginning of the end of petroleum-based plastics," said Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council and director of its waste management project. "When you have a company of this size making a commitment to a plant-based plastic, the market is going to respond."
There are other plant-based plastics available or in development, but Hershkowitz said they are not environmentally preferred because they typically use plants grown solely for that purpose, rather than using the estimated 2 billion tons of agricultural waste produced each year. And these alternative plastics cannot be recycled.
PET plastic is a go-to material for packaging because it's lightweight and shatter-resistant, its safety is well-researched and it doesn't affect flavors. It is not biodegradable or compostable but it is recyclable.