How Green Is My Soda? March 18th, 2011
Most people fall into one of two camps: Coke or Pepsi. And most people’s allegiance to their camp is fierce. We do not buy whichever is on sale. We order water or iced tea when a waiter tells us that only the “other” is on tap in their restaurant. We stick to our guns.
What, then, would it take to make you switch? Switch grass, perhaps?*
Earlier this week Pepsi announced that it has developed a 100% plant-based plastic bottle for its soda. The new bottle is currently made of switch grass, pine bark, corn husks. It will ultimately also include orange peels, oat hulls, potato scraps and other leftovers from PepsiCo’s food business. Pepsi will test the new plastic in a few hundred thousand bottles in 2012, and convert all products once the new process has been verified successful at a large scale.
Coke’s bottles are made from 70% petroleum-based plastic, and 30% plant-based plastic. While Coke has deployed its hybrid plastic across other product lines (a partnership with Heinz was announced in February), the mix of plant-based plastic has been consistent since it first launched its “PlantBottle” in 2009.
So, if you are a Coke person, will you switch? Does our interest in making our world more green weigh more or less than our interest in making our taste buds happy? It’s an easy decision when the economics of the decision don’t extend past our own pocketbooks. If Coke is worth fifty cents more to me, then I will spend fifty cents more. My decision only affects me. But when my microeconomic decision has broader macroeconomic ramifications, will I make that decision differently? (Or will I just buy cans?)
In the long run, our moral high ground probably won’t be tested every time we need a caffeine hit. The announcement from Pepsi has been described in the media as the launch of a green arms race. One commenter even went so far as to say this is the beginning of the end of petroleum-based plastic. So I suspect that Coke will up its ante in short order. Nevertheless, there may come an interim period when we must consider the environmental reach of a seemingly very small decision.
*Sorry, it’s been a long week and I make bad puns when I’m worn out. It’s my dad’s fault.