As companies continue to look for plastic replacement, one Canadian company is using sawdust as a byproduct to create plastic bottles. Origin Materials is creating technologies that use waste sawdust to make bottles. The company has sold this solution to Pepsi and Nestle.
The technology in the process takes the cellulose from sawdust to make para-xylene, a hydrocarbon used to make PET. PET is used in plastic packaging, including for water and food. In this model, PET production is replaced with wood, instead of oil.
Origin materials website said the cellulose is “100% recovered,” since the sawdust input is waste taken from lumber processing. The process also separates carbon from the sawdust, a process they call “carbon-negative.”
This process is less carbon intensive than traditional plastics manufacturing with petroleum. A report partly sponsored by the Center for International Environmental Law estimated that by 2030, if current plastic production levels grew as anticipated, carbon emissions tied to production would equal 295 new 500-megawatt coal-fired power plants.
Companies and scientists have been working on ways to reduce plastic in products. Sugarcane has become another popular replacement for plastic. Allbirds uses sugarcane in the production of their shoes and Just WATER uses it in their bottles. Nestle developed paper packaging for candy bars.
So while this process has reduced emissions, environmentalists still have concerns about bottled water and plastic production industries. We still have to recycle, remove and manage the end processes of plastic production. And the bottled water industry is harmful to the environment. One Green Planet reported recently on Nestle’s push to take millions of gallons of water from a natural spring for use in its bottled water production.
John Bissell, the founder of Origin Materials, said of the sawdust made bottles, ““Everyday things like bottles and clothing can now become carbon negative, but remain otherwise functionally identical.”
The “functionally identical” part is part of the question. Ocean Conservancy lists bottles and caps as the third and fourth most picked up item in their annual beach clean ups. Plastic bottles are still harmful to the environment, no matter the materials in the process.
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