Bacardi has invented a bottle made from a vegetable “wonder material” that can biodegrade in 18 months, without leaving behind harmful microplastics.
Bermuda-headquartered spirits company aims to become plastic-free in ten years and the major step to reach this goal is the invention of a new biodegradable bottle. It will be market in 2023 and is expected to replace 80 million plastic bottles currently used, which means that by this new bottle the company will eliminate roughly 2.500 tonnes of plastic. That is why Bacardi promote this invention as world’s most sustainable spirits bottle and a “silver bullet” against plastic pollution. The company is also removing all its non-essential single-use plastic, including all plastic gift box materials and plastic-of-sale materials.
For this invention, Bacardi has collaborated with Danimer Scientific, a US developer and manufacturer of biodegradable products. The result is a bottle made with Nodax PHA biopolymer, based on oils of plant seeds such as canola, palm and soy, which is able to fully biodegrade in 18 months in a variety of conditions including sea and freshwater, soil and compost (traditional plastic bottles degrade in about 400 years).
Nodax PHA is a medium-chain-length polyhydroxyalkanoates (mcl-PHA) and the University of Georgia New Materials Institute in a 2018 study verified it as a “truly biodegradable alternative to petrochemical plastics”. Danimer Scientific is already using the biopolymer for a large number of applications, including thermoformed trays, drinking straws, flexible and multi-layer film packaging, coating, disposable cutlery, etc. The company claimed it will biodegrade in home composts without leaving microplastics and US Food and Drug Administration declared this material is safe for food contact.
Another great benefit of this new bottle is that differently to common plastic bottles, created using form crude oil (a non-sustainable source), Nodax PHA biopolymer is made with plant seed oils, a renewable source. Also, realizing petroleum-based plastics generates significant greenhouse gas.
Nodax PHA’s life cycle and functionality make it unique and unmatched by other polymers: it is made by a bacteria introduced to an environment rich of nutrients, such as canola oil, which means it is renewable; When PHA is exposed to bacteria and fungi, these microorganisms will feed off the material until it disappears.
Bacardi has got 200 brands and labels including Grey Goose vodka, Bombay Sapphire gin, Patron tequila, Martini Vermouth and Dewar’s Scotch whisky, but the one that will use for the first time the new bottle will be Bacardi rum.
Even if the main packaging format for the company is glass bottles, reducing plastic is still important. A Bacardi spokesperson told BeverageDaily: “Bacardi is a relatively small producer of plastic waste, in fact it represents less than 1% of our total waste. Nevertheless, we currently produce approximatively 2.500 tons of plastic waste from plastic bottles alone. These bottles range from 1,75l bottles of Bacardi rum to 5cl miniature bottles for a number of our brands”. He added that it will be more expensive to produce these biopolymer bottles, though as economies of scale are reached and use of the technology increases, costs will be reduced. Any additional cost will be absorbed by Bacardi as the company believes strongly in doing the right thing for the planet.
The company claimed also that it will share this technology with competitors. It will have an exclusive agreement on its new bottle with Danimer Scientific for the first 18 months of production. After this time the agreement will not be exclusive anymore, in order to share the biopolymer technology with other companies. “This will create a virtuous circle, as more companies do the right thing for the planet by swapping harmful plastics for 100% biodegradable alternative, it will bring down the costs of production, making it a more viable option for even more companies.” - The company claimed - “This isn’t about competitive advantage: it’s about doing the right thing for the planet”.
Bacardi is projecting also a sustainably sourced paper bottle by integrating in the design the Nodax PHA polymer as the waterproof layer.
The Bermuda-headquartered company is also working to integrate the Nodax PHA polymer as waterproof layer in the design of sustainably sourced paper bottles and to replace the LDPE shrink film to package the bottles, one of the beverage industry’s main source of plastic waste. Shrink films and labels are the most used plastic component in main packaging and constitute more than 600.000 tons of plastic per year. They represent only a small amount of plastic on each bottle, but it is used widely across the beverage industry that it constitute many millions tons of plastic. Plastics from this industry are 100% recyclable, but the process to turn virgin plastic into biopolymers could create problems in recycling the original material, making it hard to be recycled.
Until now there has been no alternative to the petroleum-based plastic shrink film but Bacardi aims to replace it with the biopolymer by 2023 and the Packaging Development Team has already begun the process to reach this goal.