In today’s world, companies and organizations are often looking out for their own best interests. Unfortunately, the selfish concern of success has greatly affected our world. Whether you are concerned social, political, economic, or environmental implications of a company’s practices, let them know! Often times a well-written letter can be very effective! If you are consider a company’s reasoning for its actions, illustrate your concerns, and propose a solution to their operation, your ideas will usually be contemplated.
Though I am clearly no expert in polymers and the environmental effects of each different substance, I proposed the use of polylactic acid, PLA corn plastic in Nestlé’s Eco-Shape Arrowhead water bottles as opposed to traditional polyethylene terephthalate, PET or PETE, plastic packaging, which is a thermoplastic polymer resin of the polyester family. I proposed this solution for the possible benefits that of the PLA corn plastic, but understood that Nestlé most likely had considered their product line carefully. I was surprised to receive prompt response from the Director of Sustainability at Nestlé Waters!
Here is a copy of my letter to Kim Jeffery, CEO of Nestlé Waters North America:
Dear Mr. Jeffery,
The purpose of this letter is to propose the use of polylactic acid, PLA corn plastic, in your Eco-Shape Arrowhead water bottles as opposed to traditional polyethylene terephthalate, PET or PETE, plastic packaging, which is a thermoplastic polymer resin of the polyester family. PLA plastic is thermoplastic aliphatic polyester derived from renewable resources such as cornstarch. There are many motives for your company to pursue this change including economical and environmental benefits. A replacement of PLA corn plastic versus customary plastic will reduce emissions and energy use. Its estimated economic motives are greater due to decreased production value, and it is naturally harmless in nature.
Conventional plastic packaging is a major detriment to our environment and is beginning to become a burden to companies with economical motives. This common plastic packaging uses an estimated 200,000 barrels of oil a day in the United States. For certain companies such as Wal-Mart, who have chosen to use 114 million PLA containers per year for produce, an estimate 800,000 barrels of oil will be saved annually. While the prices of producing PLA by the pound decrease substantially, corn-based plastics are begin to look fairly cheap; oil prices continue to raise production costs of standard plastic. When PLA, “corn plastic,” was first discovered, the polymer was too expensive for commercial applications. Today, an efficient process to make the polymer is easily accessible. Now it is less than $1 to produce a pound of PLA plastic.
PET plastic is also a major burden to our delicate environment. Most bottles waters come packaged in this conventional plastic. Because of the widespread use of these bottles continues to increase, nearly 85 percent are not being recycled.xv PET plastics are a large toll on our environment as opposed to the “conventional plastic.” PET plastic requires 38 percent more energy than PLA plastics during production and releases 6.3 times more carbon dioxide into our ozone. Though PET plastic uses 10% less water during production than aforementioned PLA plastic, its negative effects on the other elements of our environment outweigh its slight pro.
Though PET plastic does not pose a serious health threat, PLA plastics contain no toxin. In technical terms, PLA plastic is decomposable. The plastic is said to molder into carbon dioxide and water in a controlled composting environment yielding a break down under certain conditions into harmless natural compounds. This controlled facility where the compost environment stays constant at 140 degrees for ten days sequentially can be found across the nation. There are 113 facilities across the U.S. that practice this decomposition technique as identified by Nature Works. The corn plastic made from this PLA is a renewable resource, and takes pressure off the nation’s landfills through its innocuous nature.
PLA plastics also have similar characteristics to those of PET. PLA has surprisingly similar mechanical properties to PET polymer including very similar flexural strength as determined by a standardized flexural test, but has a significantly lower maximum continuous use temperature.xvi However, heat resistant PLA can withstand temperatures of 230F.xvii Both of these plastics are made from the same thermoplastic polymer resin of the polyester family, but PLA plastic contains natural harmless base ingredients.
The change to PLA plastic versus the current conventional plastic would be a beneficial asset to your company and our environment. The difficulties of PLA plastic reflect larger deficiency in how we handle waste in our world. ‘“As we develop packing that can be recycled and composted, the industry will be developed.”’ PLA corn plastic will help us save oil and generate much less air pollution. This material switch will beneficial your company and our environment in many capacities and should be considered with great depth.
And here’s the response I received:
Thank you for your letter suggesting the use of PLA corn plastic as opposed to PET in our Eco-Shape Arrowhead bottles. Kim Jeffery passed your letter along to me for response, as I handle sustainability issues at Nestle Waters North America and am intimately tied to our packaging decisions. At Nestle Waters North America, we constantly strive to find the most sustainable packaging for our products, identify new ways to reduce waste, limit our use of virgin materials, and explore the feasibility of alternative renewable materials.
While we have explored PLA, two primary concerns remain: the first is that because PLA is made from corn, there are instances where its production distorts food markets; and second, PLA currently comprises so small a portion of the waste stream that it cannot be effectively recycled within our nation’s current recycling systems. At present, we are exploring the use of bio-plastics - compostable and biodegradable plastics that are made from renewable resources - and particularly plastics that do not impact food sources, such as switchgrass.
While we explore alternative materials like bioplastics, we have determined PET- and recycled PET-to be the best option currently available, and we actively seek ways to reduce our use of virgin PET. Our next-generation Eco-Shape bottle introduced in 2010 is a primary example of this, as it ranks among the lightest half-liter bottles available across the entire packaged beverage industry. Lightweighting our bottles has allowed us to reduce our use of PET resin by 80 million pounds annually.
We also constantly aim to increase the use of recycled PET (rPET) in our bottles. For example, our re- source brand water bottle is made of 50% rPET, and we now offer a Deer Park 50% rPET bottle in select markets. In Canada, our Montclair bottle is made from 100% rPET. While a 100% rPET bottle for all of our brands is our eventual goal, one of the key challenges we face is an inadequate supply of high- quality rPET at reasonable prices, due in part to low recycling rates in the U.S.
Central to finding the most sustainable packaging is recycling. As von retracting rates for-P-ET- —— plastic in the United States are too low. At Nestle Waters North America, we are committed to changing this trend, as recycling is vital to the lifecycle management that we seek for our packaging. We aim to advance recycling policies so that we can capture and reuse as many PET beverage containers as possible, and to educate our consumers about the impact they can make by recycling. Few people know, for example, that they can reduce the overall environmental impact associated with drinking a bottled beverage by 25%, just by recycling the bottle after use.
While bottled water PET containers make up less than one percent of all U.S. municipal solid waste and the recycling rate for PET plastic bottled water containers has nearly doubled in six years - we need to do more to ensure these and all other recyclable materials stay out of landfills. To address this issue, in 2008, we set a goal to help double U.S. recycling rates for all PET plastic beverage bottles to 60 percent by 2018.
One of the ways we hope to reach our goal is by supporting extended producer responsibility for packaging (EPR), which would require greater collaboration between companies, producers and municipalities to increase access to curbside recycling as well as on the street in urban settings.
Thank you again for your interest in Nestle Waters North America, and your support for the advancement of sustainable packaging. We appreciate hearing your thoughts and will take them into consideration as we move forward.
Director of Sustainability
Nestle Waters North America
I was glad to make my voice heard, but this can’t be the end. I’m not sure yet what the next step is, but so far I’ve decided to research the content of Mr. Washburn’s letter and stay in contact. I want to know more, and I’d like to involve some other organizations in the discussion. If you have suggestions of what the next step should be, please share them at www.101waystocontribute.com.