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Issue 04/2019

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  • Bioplastics
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  • Plastics
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Highlights: Blowmoulding Composites Basics: Home Composting Cover Story: Cove PHA Bottles

Cover Story 1 st PHA

Cover Story 1 st PHA water bottle Cove is bringing about the future of packaging One million plastic bottles are sold every minute. We eat a credit card’s worth of plastic each year. The effect of synthetic plastics on human health is still unknown but has already been linked to disease in corals. Mounting evidence suggests that human ingestion of plastic may be a crisis in its own right, along with the more widely known plastic pollution crisis that is devastating our environment. It is in that context that Cove was started. In 2017, Cove’s founder and CEO Alex Totterman noticed that as clamor around plastic pollution grew, so too did the size of the bottled water market. Evidently, any societal pushback to the prevalence of single-use plastic was not translating to lower sales figures for the industry. Totterman started working with product designer Matthew White to provide an alternative with the same form factor, rather than trying to modify human behavior. The goal was to develop a water bottle that could both exist on shelves and cease to exist in nature. Unsurprisingly, doing so presented serious challenges. Though efforts began in 2017, it took a sizable amount of research and development work to get to where Cove is today with launch slated for the end of 2019. Some approaches were less promising than others. At first Cove worked with pulp- or paper-based bodies with impermeable liners, but ultimately could not dispel the reality that many biodegradable liners would do a poor job of acting as a barrier for months on shelves — an obvious requirement if one is to successfully replace plastic water bottles. Through elimination, it became clear that the natural material to work with was PHA (Polyhydroxyalkanoate), a microorganism-derived biodegradable material that has been part of the metabolism in plants, animals, and humans for thousands of years. PHA is not just natural — it can be made using food waste or carbon gases. After-use value chains for several waste streams are being created this way, contributing to the circular economy. Purchasing greenhouse gases to make PHA provides crucial economic support for carbon capture technologies. As a result, using this material helps address plastic pollution and also the carbon footprint and unsustainability of packaging overall. However, using PHA is easier said than done. PHA is a natural material category rather than a single product (cf. p. 23) . So PHA has many forms, many suppliers, and many different properties. Though we cannot speak to the specific processes we have developed, it is no secret that PHA — in all its forms — is temperamental and pricier than traditional plastic resins. Not only does Cove need to accept the heightened material cost, it also needs to accept the adaptations necessary to work around its property profiles, which entails processes that themselves constitute additional costs. As a mission-oriented startup, Cove is not put off by these barriers in the way that established Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) companies may be. Cove’s mission is to help trigger a revolution in single-use packaging and change comes with growing pains. In a context where profit-seeking is the primary consideration, those costs are harder to justify. The goal has not been to integrate the production of biodegradable water bottles with massive and existing supply chains, but to prove that it is possible to successfully manufacture and scale such a product. While the latter is by definition a precursor to the former, it is something that CPG companies are less driven to pursue. This is not to say that CPG companies do not care about anything except the bottom line. A number of industryleading giants have made substantial commitments to sustainability, and we have met with many in those organizations who genuinely care about righting the ship, primarily through recycling and post-consumer recyclate (PCR) initiatives. But when it comes to driving genuine innovation, they seem content taking a backseat. “There is a lot of power to an underdog organization with a single purpose, and Cove’s focus has allowed it to spearhead development all the while working aggressively on marketing, retail partners, and distribution” says Ben Kogan, Chief Sustainability Officer at Cove, “but ultimately the greatest positive impact on packaging sustainability will be felt when industry giants work with us.” With launch slated for the end of 2019 in Los Angeles, California, Cove is ready to engender a shift in the way consumers think about and interact with single-use plastic packaging. If a PHA water bottle is possible, then what isn’t? Jan Ravenstijn, Chief Science Advisor for Cove and globally-renowned expert on PHA, says that the present limitations of PHA are a representation of insufficient investment in this material, not inherent, inalterable features: “Cove’s launch draws attention, and thus money, to the PHA industry. This is crucial, because with further investment and R&D, PHA resins could compete with plastic resins on cost, and there are few products that currently use plastic that could not be replaced with PHA materials. While PHA materials cannot fully substitute any of the traditional fossil-based polymer families, they can partly substitute most of them, so the accessible market 10 bioplastics MAGAZINE [04/19] Vol. 14

Blow moulding for PHA materials is massive. Depending on the type and grade they can be used for injection molding, extrusion, thermoforming, foam, non-wovens, fibers, 3D-printing, paper and fertilizer coating, glues, adhesives, as additives for reinforcement or plasticization or as building blocks for thermosets in paints and foams. The material is bioresorbable, so it is already being used in medical applications such as sutures and wound closures. In the early days of PHA commercialization, PHA materials are best applied to one-time use applications that will inevitably or by improper waste management end up in the environment, e.g. water bottles, microbeads in cosmetic products, or drinking straws. Biodegradation of PHA materials in all environments (compost, soil, water) is comparable to or faster than cellulose (i.e. paper).” Cove has secured investment from some of the most notable backers in CPG, including business leader and philanthropist Marc Benioff, author and entrepreneur Tony Robbins, Bebo co-founder Michael Birch, Incite.org, and the founders of Casper, Nest, The Honest Company, Dollar Shave Club, and RXBar. MT https://drinkcove.com Join us at the 14th European Bioplastics Conference The leading business forum for the bioplastics industry 3/4 December 2019 Titanic Chaussee Hotel Berlin, Germany REGISTER NOW! @EUBioplastics #eubpconf www.european-bioplastics.org/events For more information email: conference@european-bioplastics.org bioplastics MAGAZINE [04/19] Vol. 14 11

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