Bioplastic "greeness" called into question

Bioplastics are often presented as a good alternative for packagers seeking to “go green.” But now they’re getting caught up in a larger controversy over the use of plant-based materials to replace petroleum in general.

The use of crops to make fuel and (to a much lesser extent) plastic has gained great momentum over the last few years. But that momentum is being slowed by criticism on two fronts.

First, the demand for petroleum alternatives has driven up the prices of corn and other crops-in the case of corn, from $2 to more than $5 a bushel since 2002. This has increased the cost of foods, from soft drinks to meat, in which corn is a vital element. It also has given rise to fears of long-term global food shortages.

The second criticism, which may be even more damaging, is that biofuels and bioplastics may not confer any real environmental advantage after all.

Critics are looking at the total environmental impact of bio-alternatives to petroleum. Studies recently published in the journal Science looked at the total “carbon footprint” involved in substituting corn and other crops for petroleum. The study concentrated on one aspect: the effect of clearing land for crops.

Large amounts of natural land across the world are being cleared to accommodate, directly or indirectly, the demand for petroleum-alternative crops. According to the Science studies, this increases the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in two major ways: by burning natural growth to clear the land and by depriving the Earth of the CO2-absorbing properties of this natural growth. (The new crops absorb far less.)

“When you take this into account, most of the biofuel that people are using or planning to use would probably increase greenhouse gasses substantially,” Timothy Searchinger, lead author of one of the studies, told The New York Times.

Coke: We'll recycle 100% of our Cans

The Coca-Cola Co. has announced a goal of recycling or reusing 100% of the beverage cans it sells in the United States.

This policy comes in the wake of Coca-Cola’s intention, announced several months ago, to recycle or reuse all of its U.S. polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles. In 2007, the company invested $60 million in a series of recycling initiatives, including construction of the world’s largest bottle-to-bottle recycling plant in Spartanburg, S.C.

“We have made a commitment to ensure the sustainability-and recyclability-of our packaging,” says Sandy Douglas, president, Coca-Cola North America. “We envision a world in which our packaging is no longer seen as waste, but as a valuable resource for future use.”

Coca-Cola currently uses an average of 60% recycled aluminum in its beverage cans.

Quaker granola bars reach 90 calories

The Quaker Oats unit of PepsiCo is the latest to break the 100-calorie barrier with a new line of granola bars.

Quaker Chewy Granola Bars have 90 calories, a fact mentioned on the 10-bar carton just below the product name. The product is one of 11 single-serve products that Quaker has introduced since 2007 at 90 calories or less. It has company: 82 such products hit the market in 2007, compared with seven in 2003, according to Datamonitor.

Ninety is as low as Quaker will go in this regard, Quaker president Mark Schiller told USA Today: “When you go too low in calories, there isn’t enough food there.”

Tyson nixes whole cooked chicken

Tyson Foods has discontinued its line of whole roasted prepackaged chicken and closed the plant that produced it.

The roasted chicken line could not compete with the increased popularity of rotisserie chicken in supermarkets and other retail venues, according to the company.

“Our oven roasted chicken has been a successful Tyson product for almost 20 years,” says Donnie Smith, group vice president of Consumer Products for Tyson Foods. “Despite exhaustive efforts to continue this success, we’ve made the difficult decision to stop production and devote our resources to other products designed to help us stay ahead of where today’s consumer is going.”

Tyson closed its Cooked Products Plant in Wilkesboro, N.C., last month, with a loss of about 400 jobs.