The path to creating ‘the world’s first fully degradable’ plastic bottle: Waiakea

By Rachel Arthur contact

- Last updated on GMT

Stock picture - there are no images of Waiakea's new bottle available yet. Pic: Getty
Stock picture - there are no images of Waiakea's new bottle available yet. Pic: Getty
Waiakea Hawaiian Volcanic Water will start using a fully degradable bottle in the next year, reducing the lifespan of the packaging by 98%. In creating the ‘technology with the potential to change the entire CPG industry worldwide’, scientists have had to approach packaging from a completely new angle, says the brand. 

The bottle, which is also 100% recyclable, uses TimePlast, the ‘first and only patented additive for the nano-degradation of plastic’.  The new material takes plastic’s lifespan down from 1,500 years to around 15 years, claims the brand.

Waiakea will be the first to use TimePlast’s nano-additive with its bottles, which are already 100% RPET (made out of recycled bottles).

waiakea existing bottle
Waiakea's existing bottle

Plastic that is both strong and weak

Creating the bottle meant approaching polymers differently, Ryan Emmons, founder and CEO of Waiakea, told this publication.

“The main reason why something like this wasn't invented before can be attributed to two facts: first, most of the scientific research for over 70 years related to polymers has always been focused on how to make plastic better and stronger, not weaker (and simplified on a molecular level),” ​he said. 

“Second, all of the ‘sustainable’ approaches to the plastic pollution issue have been directed at making plastic ‘biodegradable’. Companies have tried to make claims with bio-plastics, to no avail (i.e. corn, sugar cane, based pla bottles, etc. that are compostable, not biodegradable).

“Instead of subscribing to the same notion, we don't leave the job of degrading the plastic to nature; we degrade the plastic chemically from the manufacturing process in order to accelerate nature's process.

"We don't make the plastic biodegradable either; we turn the polymer into something that's not plastic anymore, by converting it into a carbon-based wax: wax is, in fact, biodegradable.”

While regular plastic does eventually degrade over time, this process takes thousands of years. In introducing the TimePlast additive to bottles during its manufacturing process, plastic’s traditional chemical bonds are substituted with less complicated links. The end result is a re-engineered, nano-degraded plastic that is dramatically weakened, and thus, contains a shorter ecological footprint.

Matching the qualities of regular plastic

It took five years and 1,200 experiments to come up with a plastic that has the same qualities as regular plastic: and creating these similar properties was one of the biggest challenges for the bottle, says Emmons.

“The two biggest challenges we had were related to the amount of iterations needed to fine tune the solvation and oxidation processes without losing the typical commercial quality properties in plastic – essentially, it's very difficult to disintegrate 98% of a material without making it lose its integrity,”​ he said.

“The second biggest challenge was to obtain the first and only patent approved by the The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) on the degradation of plastic – something not even the biggest petrochemical companies have managed to obtain to date.”

‘Cost is negligible’

Waiakea bottles use a high quality RPET, which costs around two to three times as much as standard RPET.

However, the cost of the TimePlast additive – which makes the bottles degradable – is ‘negligible’ because of how it is added at the beginning of the manufacturing process. As a comparative, it costs the same amount as the colorant used to color the bottles aquamarine, says Emmons.

Waiakea

Waiakea Hawaiian Volcanic Water was founded in 2012. Although it ships the naturally alkaline water across the Pacific to the US, the brand is certified CarbonNeutral: find out more about the brand’s initiatives here.

One pound of additive can alter one thousand pounds of plastic.

“This translates into an extremely low-cost application the bottled beverage industry can easily absorb. Thus, this technology has the potential to change the entire CPG industry worldwide.”

The bottles can also be recycled alongside regular PET bottles.

“They actually improve the recycling stream because a Timeplast-altered plastic bottle is essentially a depolymerized version of its mother chain (less cross-links, less density, lower melting points – an overall a virgin-resin-like plastic),” ​said Emmons.

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