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Suntory taps NY startup to make plastic bottles 100% renewable

Beverage group will use only recycled and plant-based material to cut sea pollution

Plastic bottles of teas and soft drinks seen in a Tokyo supermarket. (Photo by Ryoma Kashiwagi) 

TOKYO -- Japanese beverage group Suntory Holdings aims to make all of its plastic bottles renewable by 2030, turning to a combination of recycled and plant-based materials, Nikkei has learned.

The move, which is expected to entail roughly 50 billion yen ($457 million) in investments -- including in a new U.S. factory -- comes as companies bolster efforts to reduce plastic waste. Plastic waste has become a major factor in maritime pollution.

Unlisted Suntory sells water, tea and other drinks in plastic bottles in about 50 countries, using an estimated 10 billion bottles a year.

The company's bottles currently include about 10% recycled PET, or polyethylene terephthalate. Suntory will lift that ratio to between 60% and 70% by 2030, and make up the remainder with plant-based resin that also can be recycled. The resin is made from pine trees and the sugar cane residue left over after sugar production.

Suntory expects the process will produce bottles at the same cost as those made from crude oil-derived plastic.

The Japanese company will set up the factory in the U.S. with Anellotech, a biomass chemicals startup based in New York state. Suntory intends to start production there in 2023. It is expected to begin selling some drinks in bottles made from 100% plant-derived material around 2024.

Multinational beverage companies have set goals for countering the rise of plastic waste. Coca-Cola aims to use 50% recycled materials in its bottles by 2030. PepsiCo says it will increase usage of recycled PET in its bottles to half in Europe by 2030, while Nestle aims for 50% in the U.S.

But used plastic bottles in most of the world are mainly disposed of by incineration or in landfills. Only around 40% are recycled in Europe, and just one-fifth in the U.S.

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