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
"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. …