Innovative paper bottles to help reduce waste

The world’s dependence on plastic, a material less than 100 years old, is a growing concern for today’s societies. We use almost 20 times more plastic now than in the 1950s, and while recycling is on the rise, the disposal of non-recyclable plastic waste is still an issue. In the United Kingdom (UK) alone, 15 million plastic bottles are thrown away every day, most of which end up in landfill sites, where they can remain for up to 500 years. The lack of specialised recycling infrastructures capable of dealing with plastic waste further increases the problem.

In response to this, the European Union (EU)-funded GreenBottle project created an innovative packaging for liquid consumables, which uses up to a third less plastic than conventional plastic bottles and significantly less than laminated cartons. GreenBottle packaging is also more environmentally friendly than glass, which, although widely recycled, still has a high carbon footprint when the emissions associated with its transportation are considered.

The GreenBottle packaging has an outer layer made out of recycled paper and a thin plastic film on the interior to hold the liquid in. Created so that these two layers are easily separable, the design encourages the end user to recycle both parts as easily as possible.

“With its paper exterior, [GreenBottle] can really be moulded into just about any shape, so [the research team] could try out new ideas or replicate designs that the consumer is familiar with,” explains Julie Hall, sales director of the GreenBottle project in St Helens, UK. “We launched our pilot project with milk bottles at Asda stores in the UK, who asked us to reproduce the design of conventional milk bottles. The consumer response was very positive, with GreenBottle milk sales increasing by 350% [in the time period],” she adds.

At first consumers had doubts about GreenBottle’s packaging durability and liquid-holding capability. However, surveys that the team conducted showed that the quality and practicality of the bottle was able to convince consumers otherwise.

The success of the GreenBottle pilot project in the UK attracted worldwide interest from various industries. “GreenBottle packaging could be used to hold juice, milk, detergent and even engine oil”, explains Hall. She elaborates by saying that “we want GreenBottle to become a standard option for producers deciding on how to package their product.”

The machinery required for the production of GreenBottle packaging is capable of producing industrial quantities and the past year (2012) had been spent perfecting the production technology, which is patented by the GreenBottle project team.

There has also been notable interest from wine producers. While it may be more difficult to convince wine enthusiasts to move away from conventional bottles, a partnership has been set up with Kingsland Wine & Spirits, a UK-based wine and spirits supplier in Manchester.

“The project team has been working on a Bordeaux-bottle shaped GreenBottle, which, besides the environmental benefits, is also better insulated and lighter than conventional glass wine bottles,” says Hall. These bottles were launched in the United States in October 2013 with the support of California-based wine merchant Truett-Hurst.

The GreenBottle project is a pioneering example of a sustainable and successful business idea that has realistic prospects of being applied on a large scale. By the end of 2012 the project used 6,000 tonnes of recycled paper and reduced the use of plastic by around 4,440 tonnes a year. GreenBottle products appeared on shelves in stores in the UK, Scandinavia and the Netherlands at the end of 2013.

Greenbottle received the EU funding within Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP). The project was showcased during the Innovation Convention 2011.