These Bottles Would Make All Beers Light

Article excerpt

Beer in a plastic bottle?

"I'd rather drink canned Beaujolais," says Manhattan resident Ken Wolf, draining a mug of suds at the Corner Bistro, a Greenwich Village watering hole.

The idea of sipping an ice-cold brew from a plastic container may be to ugh for some Americans to swallow, but rival scientists at Dow Chemical Co., Shell Chemical Co., Eastman Chemical Co. and other companies are racing to serve it up nonetheless.

The plastic in question is polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, a close molecular relative of polyester. PET has already taken the place of glass in everything from 64-ounce Coca-Cola bottles and Gatorade to squeezable ketchup containers.

But PET's applications have also been limited. The plastic allows too much air to seep into beer, fast turning it flat. It hasn't been able to crack aluminum's grip on the 12-ounce soda can because it can't keep the fizz in carbonated beverages from escaping from small containers. And PET isn't able to withstand the higher temperatures at which pasteurized products like citrus juices and baby food are packaged.

Scientists hope to change all that. By fiddling with PET's composition or blending it with a relatively recent polyester called PEN, or polyethylene naphthalate, researchers are creating a new generation of plastic that appears to solve the biggest problems of PET. And their success in the laboratory promises a battle with glass and aluminum producers to supply the packaging for a host of products from Newman's Own Inc. salad dressing to Budweiser.

"In a few years, I'll be able to fix you a nice meal and everything in it will come out of a polyester container," says David Richardson, Shell Chemical's director of polyester research and development. "I'll even pour your wine from a plastic bottle."

Already, this next generation of packaging has found its way into half-liter beer bottles in Austria. And in Birmingham, England, a small brewer's new plastic bottle could make sports events safer. "Plastic, you see, is less deadly than glass when you throw it at a soccer match," says Richard Marion, an executive at Amoco Corp.'s Amoco Chemical Co.

Brewers like Anheuser-Busch Cos. are now aggressively testing the newest members of the plastics family.

A broad range of market research shows that consumers already prefer PET plastic when they can get it. That's because PET bottles are clear, resealable and lighter, keep fluids colder longer and are easily recycled into such items as polyester shirts. They also don't break when dropped. (Plastic partisans point out that shattered glass from family-size soft-drink bottles was the No. 1 cause of emergency-room visits 20 years ago.)

Coca-Cola Co. …