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Inside Bacardi’s Biodegradable Bottle and the Plan to Open Source

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The creator of the world’s first white rum is taking a shot at revolutionizing its entire line of packaging with sustainability in mind.

Bermuda-based Bacardi, one of the largest family-owned spirits companies in the world, is in the research and development phase of a 100% biodegradable bottle, which it plans to roll out to its entire catalog. The company’s portfolio includes 200 brands and labels from such recognizable names as Bombay Sapphire Gin, Grey Goose Vodka, Patron Tequila, Martini Vermouth and Dewar’s Scotch whisky.

The company’s new packaging will replace the 80 million plastic bottles it produces every year, which equates to 3,000 tons of plastic.

Danimer Scientific, a manufacturer of biodegradable products, is collaborating with Bacardi to shake things up. The petroleum-derived plastics which currently hold Bacardi’s spirits will be replaced with Nodax PHA, a biopolymer made from the natural oils of plant seeds such as palm, canola and soy. Bottles will no longer be lined with plastic

And to top it off, Bacardi is taking their sustainability journey one step further through open-sourcing the solution. The company’s ultimate goal is to be 100% plastic-free within the next 10 years.

Bacardi’s Senior Vice President of Global Operations Jean-Marc Lambert tells Waste360 about the innovation and why the company is choosing to open source the proprietary packaging.

Waste360: What was the process to collaborate with Danimer on the new packaging?

Jean-Marc Lambert: An important consideration for us was that unlike a regular plastic bottle which is created from crude oil, a non-sustainable source, Danimer’s biopolymer is created from a renewable source, plant seed oil. Not to mention the fact that manufacturing petroleum-based plastics generates significant greenhouse gas emissions.

We also wanted the bottle to be 100% biodegradable and recognized that working with this extremely versatile PHA, we could achieve this goal. And our final consideration was the fact that following the opening earlier this year of its new facility in Winchester, Kentucky, Danimer could also support production at a commercial scale.

Waste360: Were there any challenges to designing more sustainable containers for liquids?

Lambert: We’re in the early stages of the R&D process but what we know right now is that together with Danimer our packaging development team will be looking to perfect the thickness and formulation of the biopolymer. We want the final design to have all the robust qualities required for spirits while ensuring the bottle takes the minimum amount of time possible to biodegrade.

Waste360: Are there any effects on the taste or quality of the product? Will it have a shorter life span because of the bottle?

Lambert: Each of our brands that uses the new biopolymer bottle will have the same exceptional quality and taste as in a glass bottle. The new bottle’s shelf life will be a minimum of 18 months. After that time, the spirit inside the bottle may begin to very slowly evaporate. The bottle will not biodegrade in normal storage conditions. It will only start to biodegrade when it’s in an environment where it can be consumed by microorganisms, eg compost, soil, freshwater and sea water.

Waste360: Are there any issues with the product breaking down in the bottle since it is not lined with plastic?

Lambert: This revolutionary biopolymer will help preserve the quality and taste of the spirit inside the bottle, while not affecting the bottle itself, in exactly the same way as regular plastic.

Waste360: When can consumers expect to see these start appearing on shelves? What is the timeline to roll it out?

Lambert: The first bottle on the shelf will be for Bacardí rum in 2023, and the first market to have the new bottle will be the USA.

Waste360: Can you please talk a little more about your plans to open source this packaging in the future?

Lambert: This isn’t only about Bacardi being environmentally responsible. We want to help move the needle for the entire industry. We are combining our spirits industry expertise with Danimer’s biopolymer to create the perfect 100% biodegradable alternative to our plastic bottles and those used throughout the industry. Not long after the launch of our new bottle in 2023, our intention is to share the technology so we can contribute to larger-scale biopolymer use and create a virtuous circle. As more companies do the right thing for the planet by swapping harmful plastics for a 100% biodegradable alternative, it will bring down the costs of production, making it a more viable option for even more companies. 

Waste360: Why is it so important for the beverage industry to continue to be innovative with its packaging solutions? Where do you see Bacardi’s part in this?

Lambert: We want to be the most environmentally responsible global drinks company and to achieve this we will continue to set ourselves ambitious goals and invest in new technology to help us achieve them.

As a family-owned company for more than 150 years, we are proud of how we have innovated throughout our history to ensure that we always reflect the world around us. Now, as we look ahead to the next 150 years, we recognize the importance of minimizing our impact on the environment and doing the right thing for the future of our consumers, our customers and our company.

Waste360: What opportunities do you see with sustainable packaging in the next 3, 5 and 10 years?

Lambert: This is only the first step in our journey to being 100% plastic free by 2030. Over the coming years, we’ll be exploring many other ways in which we can use the biopolymer to replace single use plastics across our supply chain. By 2023, we will also have removed single-use plastic from our secondary packaging and our point-of-sale materials; by 2025, 100% of our packaging will be recyclable and will contain 40% recycled content.

Waste360: Do you have any other comments regarding Bacardi and its sustainability initiatives?

Lambert: Our commitment to being 100% plastic free by 2030 is just one way in which we will achieve our goal of being the most environmentally responsible global drinks company.

Since we began measuring our greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption back in 2006, we have cut both by more than 50% and we’re continuing to reduce them even further. We’re also being rigorous in the sustainable sourcing of our ingredients and packaging, and our zero waste to landfill ambition. We’re currently finding a second life for more than 99% of our waste and will have achieved the same for the final 1% by 2025.  

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